Extract from the bark of the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) has long been used in Chinese herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory and treatment for digestive problems.
But now it’s proven itself well enough in the laboratory to take to the strict testing level of a patient trial.
Adanki Pratap Kumar, Ph.D., a professor of urology in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center, discovered in the lab that there was something special about the extract in combination with radiation treatments that seemed to make both work much better.
Dr. Kumar is now working with clinicians at the Health Science Center’s Cancer Therapy & Research Center to see if the supplement is as effective in partnering with radiation treatments against prostate cancer in patients.
The study, open only to biopsy-proven prostate cancer patients in the South Texas Veterans Health Care Systems, is divided into two sections: those who receive surgery and those who receive radiation therapy.
The men in the radiation arm take the supplement each day throughout the course of their therapy. Joe Covert, a patient at the CTRC, said he had to get used to taking the required thrice-daily dose, but that it hasn’t caused him any trouble. Covert also said he doesn’t expect a miracle — he decided to participate in the early-stage study out of a wish to help other men with prostate cancer in the future.
But unlike the case of many drugs that are first being tested on humans, researchers are not worried that the cork tree bark will have toxic side effects in study participants, since it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years.
“It’s never been toxic, so we would be incredibly surprised if there was an interaction,” said William “Trey” Jones, M.D., a radiation oncologist at the CTRC. “We’re hoping to find that it provides a much higher level of cancer cell kill.”
The cork tree is native to the Amur River watershed in northeastern China and far western Russia, and its extract is widely available as an herbal supplement, so if it is successful as a cancer therapy it could potentially offer a price advantage for patients as well.
The dietary supplement is marketed as Nexrutine by Next Pharmaceuticals of Salinas, Calif., which provided a supply of the compound for this study.
The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.
Contact: Elizabeth Allen, CTRC, 210-450-2020