A new drug called Tasquinimod is the result of years of labor by scientist John Isaacs, Ph.D., The R. Christian B. Evensen Scholar, to develop a way to block angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the creation of new blood vessels, and it is a process that cancers become very good at if they survive long enough. Just as an army can’t move forward without supply trucks and roads to carry them, cancers can’t spread without their own larder — nutrient-bearing blood vessels. The theory behind drugs that block angiogenesis is that if you cut off the blood supply, you starve the cancer, slow its growth, contain it and maybe, in the process, make it more vulnerable to other drugs designed to kill it.
In an early clinical trial of 200 men with advanced prostate cancer — patients at Hopkins and six other institutions — tasquinimod slowed the rate of disease progression. The men took a pill once a day for four weeks. At six months, 57 percent of the men who took tasquinimod had no disease progression, compared to 33 percent of men in the placebo group. Overall, the drug added about 12 weeks of “progressionfree survival” — time that the disease did not get any worse.
“Given these results, we are moving forward with Phase III studies,” says oncologist Michael Carducci, M.D., who is leading an international trial of tasquinimod. “After exploring the drug as a single agent, then we may study it in combination with other prostate cancer drugs.”
At six months, 57 percent of the
men who took tasquinimod had
no disease progression, compared
to 33 percent of men in the
Although tasquinimod shuts off the development of new blood vessels around the tumor, it does not harm the blood vessels that are already there. “The idea for anti-angiogenesis drugs is not so much to prevent tumors from developing as to stabilize the disease,” says Isaacs. Tasquinimod is not without side effects, which can include gastrointestinal problems, fatigue and bone pain, and rarely, heart attack, stroke, and deep vein thrombosis. Isaacs is now working to identify the drug’s precise cellular target, with hopes of making it more specifi c and effective