08:14am Wednesday 16 October 2019

GHSU cancer clinician helped develop new FDA-approved drug that prolongs survival in patients with metastatic colon cancer

by Christen Carter

Dr. Olivier Rixe, medical oncologist and Director of the multidisciplinary neuro-oncology group and experimental therapeutics program at the GHSU Cancer Center, conducted Phase I trials in Europe for the Regeneron/Sanofi drug Zaltrap, an infused medicine used with chemotherapy to treat metastatic colon cancer.

The study by co-investigators Dr. Rixe and Dr. Eric Van Cutsem laid the groundwork in demonstrating Zaltrap’s ability to prolong survival of patients with metastatic colon cancer when combined with standard chemotherapy. Zaltrap, also known as VEGF-TRAP, is a molecule that targets VEGF, or vascular endothelial growth factor, a key protein in the growth of blood vessels that feed cancerous tumors. By “trapping” VEGF, Zaltrap effectively starves tumor growth.

A subsequent clinical trial found that the combined therapy helped patients live longer and helped prevent symptoms from worsening. The drug is a more potent VEGF inhibitor than the similar drug Avastin, which also targets VEGF in colon and lung cancers, but was recently pulled from breast cancer treatment over safety concerns.

“Our research into this combination therapy began in 2006,” said Rixe. “I’m very pleased to see our initial study—the first combination study tested in humans—move to additional trials and final approval. Over the past two decades, cancer therapies have continued to improve, and research such as ours has helped identify new standards of care for patients and collapse the length of time for drug development to five years or less.”

“Leading-edge research such as the work done by Dr. Rixe is part of the ongoing mission of the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center,” said Dr. Samir Khleif, Cancer Center Director. “The fact that we are able to bring new cancer drugs and innovative therapies to patients who need them the most is an enormous source of pride and satisfaction. This is why we are here.”

A paper describing the research by Rixe and Van Cutsem is available online and will appear in an upcoming issue of the European Journal of Cancer.

Zaltrap is one among several FDA-approved anti-cancer agents (in addition to axitinib, sunitinib, oxaliplatin, irinotecan, vinflunine) that Rixe has studied from the initial phase of clinical development.

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