Existing cancer treatments find groundbreaking new uses

Sponsored by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

When a new cancer treatment or drug is unveiled, it understandably gets a lot of attention. However, experts at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center often find that new applications of existing therapies are an even more fruitful source of expanded treatment options for patients.

Sometimes these new treatments look like improvements – more accurate dosages, milder side effects – while others are extensions: using a technique or drug that has been effective in one type of cancer or a specific subset of patients and applying it to others. The result in both cases is that more patients gain access to a new way of fighting their cancer.

What is possible with PDT

dr Sai Yendamuri, MD, MBA, FACS, Chairman and Attending Surgeon, Department of Thoracic Surgery, Professor of Oncology and Director of the Thoracic Surgery Laboratory, is doing important work with Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). This treatment uses an intense light source combined with a light-sensitive drug to kill cancer cells.

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PDT is not a new therapy – it was discovered in 1978 in Roswell Park. dr However, Yendamuri says more than 40 years later, new and better uses are still being discovered.

“There have been all sorts of improvements, from how we can physically treat a tumor to the accuracy of how we can treat it,” he says. “At the time PDT was discovered and first used, it was commonly used for skin lesions. But now we have technology that allows us to use it in the body, in the tumor itself.”

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dr Yendamuri is currently conducting a clinical study involving the use of PDT to enhance lung cancer patients’ response to immunotherapy and another involving a method of measuring the amount of light emitted during PDT for mesothelioma patients.

Importance of clinical trials

All of these advances are made possible through clinical trials, a crucial step in the research process, regardless of whether the drug or treatment is already being used in other forms.

“If a drug works for a certain type of cancer, and we think it works because of the biology of the cancer,” says Dr. Yendamuri, “Then the next logical step is to ask: Can we take this information and try it on another cancer with similar biology?”

At Roswell Park, clinical trials are only approved after a rigorous review process that usually stretches for years, with multiple levels of corrections and changes made by impartial reviewers before they even reach testing.

“When a clinical trial is conducted in an experienced center like ours, it is thoroughly reviewed to ensure it is the best design for patients before it is ever presented to a patient,” says Dr. Yendamuri. “We only conduct the study if we believe that the benefit outweighs the risk. This is an important tenet of how we conduct this research.”

The trial phase is designed not only to thoroughly test whether a treatment is working as expected or intended, but also to ensure that there are no unintended side effects or harm.

“If you do a study with 200 people, the result will affect the treatment of tens of thousands of people,” explains Dr. Yendamuri. “So you want to put as much rigor into this study of 200 people as possible, to make sure what you’re seeing isn’t just random.”

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Optimizing and expanding treatment options

Often, patients entering a clinical trial have exhausted their treatment options. Others may have had good luck with an existing treatment for months or even years but have seen diminishing results. By participating in a study, they have the chance to potentially find a new way to slow or stop the growth of their cancer.

But even when they don’t, they play a crucial role in expanding and improving the options available to future patients.

“Clinical trials are so important – they advance cancer treatment,” says Dr. Yendamuri. “It’s very inspiring, the courage it takes for someone to try a new technique, knowing that it may or may not help them, but it may help someone in the future. Patients show that courage every day and we are so grateful to them.”

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