What’s the Best Treatment for Metastatic Colorectal Cancer?

The answer is: nobody knows.

We have previously described a patient with a small bowel cancer for whom a treatment regimen contrary to the most widely used triplet was recommended. While it is arguable that small bowel adenocarcinoma is rare enough that no one really has a favorite regimen, colorectal management has become somewhat rigidly focused on FOLFOX. Yet, this popular combination may not be right for every patient with colon cancer.

We know, for example, that FOLFOX combined with Avastin provided no advantage in the adjuvant setting. We also know that the random addition of Erbitux to FOLFOX similarly failed to provide an advantage. As the modes of action differ between drugs, it is not surprising that subsets of colon cancer patients may do better with Irinotecan based therapies. Indeed, clinical trials combining the new monoclonal antibodies with Irinotecan have proven quite favorable, including the 2007 BOND-2 trial reported by investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.

With this in mind, patients who present with both untreated colon cancer and a favorable profile for Irinotecan based combinations always interest us. One such patient presented to our attention in the last few weeks. This patient, in his mid 30s, was found to have inoperable, widely metastatic disease with extensive liver involvement. Confirmatory biopsies provided tissue for analysis and revealed no evidence of mismatch repair.

The results of the EVA-PCD platform were interesting on many levels. First, the EGFr active drugs provided a uniquely favorable profile, as did the down-stream inhibition of the MEK-ERK inhibitor we studied. These findings strongly suggested that the patient was RAS wild type (i.e. non-mutated). It is known that RAS mutation confers resistance to the EGFr active drugs. By inference, his sensitivity to the EGFr active drugs was prima facie evidence of RAS wild type, a finding that was confirmed later by molecular analysis. There was also a favorable profile for VEGF active drugs. Most favorable of all was the combination of Irinotecan with inhibitors of both VEGF and EGFr. This was the regimen that we selected.

We wait with interest the results of the therapy, as re-staging for response will be conducted in the coming months.

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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