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Trying on new cancer drugs

Lee Lange has a Nike-inspired message for patients who are on the fence about participating in a clinical trial: just do it.

Lange, who taught high school biology at Fort Campbell, Ky., for 37 years, sees his own participation – he’s currently taking part in his second study for patients with melanoma – as a positive contribution to science.

“I’m proud to do it,” says Lange, a patient of Jeffrey Sosman, M.D., director of the Melanoma Program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. “I’ll take any protocol I’m offered because I know that even if it doesn’t help me, the doctors are getting information that will help someone else down the line. And that’s what science is all about.”

“The willingness of patients to help themselves and others by participating in trials is so critical to our efforts to further clarify and improve the treatment of melanoma,” Sosman says.

Vanderbilt-Ingram has recently expanded its Phase I Drug Development Program with newly dedicated clinical space and new leadership. Jordan Berlin, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, will direct the program, and Igor Puzanov, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine, will serve as associate director.

In the Phase I Program, researchers test new anti- cancer compounds in a small group of people for the first time. They evaluate safety, determine dosage and identify side effects. Phase I trials are not usually designed to test drug effectiveness. But with the advent of targeted drugs and the ability to “tailor” these medicines to selected patients, it may be time to re-think some strategies of Phase I studies, Sosman says.

“I think we need to make the greatest effort to match the drugs to the tumor’s genetic changes – and perhaps even as early as in a Phase I trial.”

– by Leigh MacMillan

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For more information about clinical trials at Vanderbilt-Ingram, please visit www.vicc.org/ct