Lung Cancer Breakthrough

(December 2, 2009)

American Lung Association Funded Researcher Makes Lung Cancer Breakthrough

American Lung Association research has yielded an important discovery in the treatment of lung cancer, a disease that causes more deaths than any other cancer in the United States.  Alan P. Fields, Ph.D., a recent recipient of the American Lung Association/LUNGevity Foundation Lung Cancer Discovery Award, and his team at the Mayo Clinic Florida have found a major oncogene - a gene responsible for lung cancer development in mice.  

Along with this breakthrough, the team also found a drug once used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, showed promise in inhibiting the oncogene, known as protein kinase Ciota (PKCi), in some types of lung cancer. The drug aurothiomalate (ATM) is a targeted therapy, meaning it doesn't kill both cancer and normal cells the way many chemotherapy drugs do.  ATM instead targets PKCi, preventing the oncogene's ability to turn normal cells into cancerous tumor cells. 

Dr. Fields and his team found that PKCi is over-expressed in a majority of lung cancer and is necessary for lung cancer growth.  ATM was effective in producing an anti-tumor response in mice with lung cancer when given at levels similar to those given to people being treated for rheumatoid arthritis. These results suggest that lung cancer patients whose tumors have high PKCi levels are likely to respond to ATM therapy. Dr. Fields also found that ATM is effective when used together with other targeted drugs used to treat lung cancer, but not with traditional chemotherapy drugs.

Building on the data gathered through his American Lung Association/LUNGevity Foundation Lung Cancer Discovery Award, Dr. Fields and his colleagues have conducted a Phase I clinical trial of ATM in lung cancer patients, to assess the safety and optimal dosing of the drug for lung cancer treatment. His results show that ATM is well-tolerated and he is planning to soon start a Phase II trial to look at the effectiveness of the drug in combination with another targeted agent as a treatment for lung cancer.

The American Lung Association and the LUNGevity Foundation came together in 2005 to create the Lung Cancer Discovery Award and jointly fund research to support their mutual interest in finding a cure for lung cancer.  Since its inception, the Lung Cancer Discovery Award has funded 12 research proposals totaling $1.2 million.

"With five-year survival rates for lung cancer at only 15 percent, the need for new treatments is critical," said Charles D. Connor American Lung Association President and CEO.  "We are committed to finding a cure for lung cancer."