IU project will evaluate ovarian cancer drug for clinical trials


INDIANAPOLIS -- (Nov. 23, 2010) -- Indiana University will receive $900,000 from the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) to help prepare the new drug SGI-110 for clinical trials in patients whose once-thwarted ovarian cancer has returned.

Kenneth Nephew, Ph.D., a researcher with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, is leading the project in collaboration with co-investigators and fellow cancer center members Daniela Matei, M.D., and John Turchi, Ph.D.

"They don't just give these grants to anyone," Dr. Nephew, professor of medical sciences and cellular and integrative physiology at the IU School of Medicine, said. "This is an affirmation of the work we've been doing, and a great opportunity for us to advance ovarian cancer therapies. To be considered and approved by the OCRF for this grant also reflects well on the quality of IU's cancer program."

The OCRF this year approved only three Program Project Development Grants, which are reserved for senior researchers whose projects are deemed most likely to bear fruit -- in the form of phase I clinical trials and, later, National Institutes of Health support.

SGI-110, a synthetic drug similar to decitabine, is currently in clinical trials with leukemia patients to determine the drug's efficacy and toxicity profile. Dr. Nephew says preliminary tests with SGI-110 suggest the drug is slightly more effective and less damaging to tissue than decitabine.

"And unlike decitabine, SGI-110 can be delivered subcutaneously outside the hospital," Dr. Nephew said. "Decitabine requires several days' worth of intravenous injection treatments in clinic. SGI-110 is more stable, and can be administered via simple injection every other day, possibly every third day.

Drs. Nephew, Matei and Turchi will work with IU Simon Cancer Center members Bob Bigsby, Ph.D., Giuseppe Del Priore, M.D., and others to investigate the chemical properties of SGI-110, as well as its biochemical and molecular genetic activity in ovarian cancer cells -- specifically the ovarian cancer stem cells that give rise to the disease. Nephew said that as far as he knows, no other researchers are looking at SGI-110's impact on solid tumors.

"My own portion of the project is to look at how well SGI-110 helps eradicate these stem cells the first time a patient experiences ovarian cancer," Dr. Nephew said. "If we can get rid of these cells the first time around, we believe the cancer is less likely to come back."