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Moffitt awarded $1.2 million for testing of new cancer drug

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute recently received a $1.2 -million grant from the National Cancer Institute to fund the testing of a new combination of drugs for breast cancer. Saïd Sebti, director of Moffitt’s drug discovery program, applied for the grant in hopes that the combination will not only slow down the growth of cancer cells, but kill the cells already present.

Sebti said his team of scientists will test the effects of the farnesyl transferase inhibitors (FTIs) when used with an already widely used pair of anticancer drugs — Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide.

FTIs attach to cancer-causing proteins to prevent any further development of cancer.

“While we think the FTI will slow down the tumor, we believe the combination of the FTI and AC will kill it,” Sebti said. “(It’s) like a zip code. If this cancer-causing protein doesn’t have a zip code, it’s kind of lost inside the cell, and if it’s lost, it cannot cause cancer.”

Sebti said that his team will introduce Zarnestra, an FTI owned by a division of Johnson and Johnson, to the AC combination.

Zarnestra, which commonly treats pancreatic, colon and breast cancer, was the first drug of its type to be clinically tested and is the most commonly tested, but it has never been used with the AC.

The study targets mostly cancer patients who are in the final stages of cancer, where the cancer has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. Stage three patients will also participate in the study, Sebti said.

“The best thing you can hope for is increased survival time of the patients,” Sebti said.

Sebti also said he wants to determine the differences between the patients who will respond to the treatment and those who won’t. He said this information could be used to design a better drug.

Sebti said two members of Moffitt’s comprehensive breast care program will help conduct the test: Stacy Moulder, assistant professor of oncology and Mokenge Malafa, associate professor of oncology and surgery. Joseph Sparano, of Albert Einstein Cancer Center in the Bronx, will oversee related clinical trials from New York.

One way Sebti and his team have chosen to test these differences is by analyzing actual tumor tissue instead of only blood cells. They will compare tumor tissue prior to treatment to tumor tissue from after treatment to determine how the drug combination affects the tumor. Sebti said this is the first time a comparison of tumor tissue has been made in this way.

“That’s what really great about this trial,” Sebti said. “We’re doing something that’s not usually done.”

Sebti, who has been at Moffitt since 1996, said the results of the annual trials are set to start July 1 and is expecting data within six months.

“Based on previous experience, these type of drugs should just make the tumors slow down from growing,” Sebti said. “But in animal models, there are models where the tumor has actually just stopped growing. And there are even other animal models where the tumor shrinks and it disappears, and we really don’t understand why.”