Sixty-six year-old Myra Thompson is among patients who have benefited from an investigational therapy for lung cancer developed by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore.
After being diagnosed elsewhere with small cell lung cancer, Thompson began chemotherapy. But despite six months of treatment, the cancer continued to grow. Out of options, the local oncologist she was seeing near her home in Harrisburg, Pa., told her he would need to refer her to a larger cancer center. “I told him to get me to Johns Hopkins,” says Thompson.
Under the supervision of Hopkins lung cancer specialist Rosalyn Juergens, she began treatment with a drug called 5-azacytidine in combination with a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor. Her cancer hasn’t grown since.
Rather than attacking and destroying cancerous cells like standard chemotherapy drugs do, this therapy actually aims to reprogram cells to behave more like normal cells. Clinical responses in lung cancer patients that have lasted long after treatment has ended indicate that it’s working. Hopkins investigators are even seeing results among some patients who had failed at least three attempts with standard chemotherapy; they are optimistic they will see similar results in trials of breast and colon cancer patients.
Thompson comes to the Kimmel Cancer Center once a month for 10 days of outpatient therapy, which includes a pill and an injection in her abdomen. Other than a feeling a bit tired and losing a little weight, Thompson has experienced no other side effects.
“I feel wonderful,” she says. “I see people with lung cancer who aren’t doing as well as I am. I tell them go to Johns Hopkins and get on this research trial.”