Researcher seeks cure for ovarian cancer

This year in the U.S. alone, 15,820 women are expected to die of ovarian cancer, a disease that claims the majority of its victims because it’s detected too late for preventative medicine.

But thanks to the discovery of a Moffitt Cancer Center researcher, the lives of thousands of patients could be extended, if not saved altogether.

Patricia Kruk, a Moffitt researcher working on ovarian cancer, hit upon something unusual: a heavy concentration of a certain protein in the urine of ovarian cancer patients.

Now that Kruk has identified the protein, BCL-2, a simple urine sample from a patient could be used to diagnose the disease at a much earlier stage than previously possible.

The University is entrusting the federal grant-funded research and its development to the Florida-based GeoPharma Inc., expecting to bank on the ovarian cancer test during its patent period, Director of the Division of Patents and Licensing Valerie McDevitt said.

GeoPharma will develop Kruk’s work into a sellable product and approach the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of the test – work the University doesn’t have the capabilities to perform.

But as institutional source of the research and licenser, USF will retain full ownership of the patent.

“We license (the research) to a company and the company has the right to use it and move forward,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation. Everybody’s happy.”

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is detected at the early stage in only 20 percent of cases, but when it is found early, 94 percent of patients live longer than five years from diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, by the time it is diagnosed, it is in the late stage,” Kruk said.

In around 70 percent to 80 percent of cases, the cancer is typically found after the disease has already spread beyond the ovaries.

One reason is that the current diagnostic instruments – a physical exam and blood test – are usually administered after symptoms have already become severe.

Because ovarian cancer generally develops alongside menopause, its symptoms are often confused with that condition. Patients often report feelings of chest or abdominal pain, similar to that of menopause. As a result, many women seek testing too late.

Alec Shurtz can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or