A Tale of Two Lung Cancers

I was recently asked to speak at a community outreach mixer to describe our work in lung cancer. I invited two patients to join me:

  1. A woman in her early 50s who presented to medical attention with metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung with brain involvement.
  2. A woman in her early 60s, also with metastatic adenocarcinoma with brain involvement.

Under the microscope their tumors appeared almost identical. But, in the laboratory, the profiles were distinctly different. Patient no. 1 revealed a highly sensitive profile to the EGFR-TKI erlotinib (Tarceva) that was demonstrably enhanced by VEGF inhibition (e.g. Bevacizumab, Avastin). The second patient was resistant to erlotinib and VEGF inhibition, but was highly sensitive to the doublet of platinum plus gemcitabine.

Both patients attended the mixer and spoke to the crowd. They both looked the picture of health, sporting their own hair with no significant toxicities from therapy. Both had completed Cyberknife brain radiation and had gone on to exactly the right treatment for them. Despite their similarities in presentation and histology, their treatments were extremely different. Yet, both have had excellent and durable responses.

Every lung cancer patient has the capacity to do well. It is our job to find out which drugs and combinations are most likely to achieve that end. Functional profiling provided both of these patients exactly the right treatment for them. With the Rational Therapeutics EVA-PCD platform, every patient is treated as an individual.

About Dr. Robert A. Nagourney
Dr. Nagourney received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Boston University and his doctor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where he was a University Scholar. After a residency in internal medicine at the University of California, Irvine, he went on to complete fellowship training in medical oncology at Georgetown University, as well as in hematology at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. During his fellowship at Georgetown University, Dr. Nagourney confronted aggressive malignancies for which the standard therapies remained mostly ineffective. No matter what he did, all of his patients died. While he found this “standard of care” to be unacceptable, it inspired him to return to the laboratory where he eventually developed “personalized cancer therapy.” In 1986, Dr. Nagourney, along with colleague Larry Weisenthal, MD, PhD, received a Phase I grant from a federally funded program and launched Oncotech, Inc. They began conducting experiments to prove that human tumors resistant to chemotherapeutics could be re-sensitized by pre-incubation with calcium channel blockers, glutathione depletors and protein kinase C inhibitors. The original research was a success. Oncotech grew with financial backing from investors who ultimately changed the direction of the company’s research. The changes proved untenable to Dr. Nagourney and in 1991, he left the company he co-founded. He then returned to the laboratory, and developed the Ex-vivo Analysis - Programmed Cell Death ® (EVA-PCD) test to identify the treatments that would induce programmed cell death, or “apoptosis.” He soon took a position as Director of Experimental Therapeutics at the Cancer Institute of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. His primary research project during this time was chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He remained in this position until the basic research program funding was cut, at which time he founded Rational Therapeutics in 1995. It is here where the EVA-PCD test is used to identity the drug, combinations of drugs or targeted therapies that will kill a patient's tumor - thus providing patients with truly personalized cancer treatment plans. With the desire to change how cancer care is delivered, he became Medical Director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial in 2003. In 2008, he returned to Rational Therapeutics full time to rededicate his time and expertise to expand the research opportunities available through the laboratory. He is a frequently invited lecturer for numerous professional organizations and universities, and has served as a reviewer and on the editorial boards of several journals including Clinical Cancer Research, British Journal of Cancer, Gynecologic Oncology, Cancer Research and the Journal of Medicinal Food.

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