NEW YORK—Survival rates for many types of cancer have improved dramatically in recent decades, but the prognosis for osteosarcoma is about the same today as it was in the 1970s. A new $1.3-million grant awarded to the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) and the Albert Einstein Cancer Center (AECC) is aimed at finally making some progress toward more effective treatments for the rare disease, which is a form of bone cancer. The institutions announced last month that they had received the National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant to support preclinical studies aimed at developing new therapies.
“We clearly need new drugs with efficacy to improve survival,” Richard Gorlick, vice chairman of the department of pediatrics at CHAM, tells DDNews. “This research, which would not be possible without this grant, will help us make progress towards that goal.” Gorlick, who has made osteosarcoma a major focus of his career, will be leading the research program funded by the grant.
Only about 800 cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed in the United States each year, although it is the most common form of bone cancer in children. It is most commonly found in teens, with 15 being the average age of diagnosis. Typically the disease is treated with surgery and chemotherapy.
The rarity of the disease is a major reason why little research has gone forward in recent decades focused on developing more effective treatments. “There has been very little motivation for industry to focus on this disease,” Gorlick acknowledges.
However, Gorlick says that several lines of research hold promise for osteosarcoma patients. Clinical trials are currently underway to test such things as immuno-therapies, monoclonal antibodies, bone cell treatments and new chemotherapy agents. CHAM and the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care are currently engaged in three of these clinical trials and plan to begin more trials soon. One of the trials is testing a drug that has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating breast cancer and that researchers believe could have efficacy towards osteosarcoma.
The new NCI funding will support preclinical studies of five to 10 novel investigational treatments each year. The most promising drugs will be selected to be used in clinical trials that involve children and teens. “What we will do is screen drugs through human tumors as means of trying to determine whether [they're] effective or not,” says Gorlick.
“This research should yield new hope for hundreds of children and families across the country faced with a diagnosis of osteosarcoma,” he notes. “For those of us who have spent decades researching this challenging cancer, being able to more systematically screen for new drugs that will directly impact the course of the disease is very exciting.”