Iressa news backgrounder: Testing of smart drug expands at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

It is a drug suffused in promise, a next-generation therapy that has shown glimmers of powerful potential. Iressa is the kind of treatment that oncologists dream of - a pill that can be swallowed once a day, a non-toxic therapy that causes few side effects. For 10 percent of patients who have tried it, people who have no other options left for them, Iressa seems to make the difference between life and death. Another 30 percent to 40 percent of patients who have used the drug have a better, if not a longer, life.

But for most patients, Iressa does not shrink their cancer. That fact has become a challenge to researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. They are dedicated to solving the central puzzle that Iressa, and similar other targeted therapies, pose - what are the cancers that may best respond, and which patients will benefit?

M. D. Anderson researchers have been at the forefront of testing Iressa, as well as a slew of other experimental drugs that target critical cancer cell pathways. They have been involved in all phases of clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of Iressa in common lung cancer, work that helped lead to federal Food and Drug Administration approval of the drug in early 2003 for use when standard therapy has not helped lung cancer patients.

Now, investigators at M. D. Anderson are testing Iressa in malignant brain cancer and are poised to study it in a number of cancers, including head and neck, breast, and prostate, along with further investigations in lung cancer.

"M. D. Anderson is one of the leading institutions in developing targeted therapies such as Iressa," says Frank Fossella, M.D., professor in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, who has treated many lung and other head and neck cancers where it has shown tantalizing benefit.

"So far, Iressa has been a good news, bad news story. The response rates are not as high as we woul

Contact: Laura Sussman
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

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