Po­ten­tial treat­ment

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - BUSINESS -

An ex­per­i­men­tal ther­apy for a form of brain can­cer, like what killed Sen. John McCain, has been de­vel­oped by OMRF.

On the day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing in 2015, Mike Schus­ter was di­ag­nosed with glioblas­toma.

Glioblas­toma is a form of brain can­cer, and it claimed the lives of Sen­a­tors John McCain and Ted Kennedy. The stan­dard treat­ment reg­i­men in­volves surgery to re­move as much of the tu­mor as pos­si­ble, fol­lowed by ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy.

Still, the tu­mor al­most al­ways grows back. With treat­ment, the me­dian sur­vival from time of di­ag­no­sis (mean­ing half of pa­tients live longer, and half die sooner) is 12 to 18 months.

Mike un­der­went the usual course of treat­ment: surgery, ra­di­a­tion, chemo. But a year later, his tu­mor grew back. Af­ter a sec­ond surgery, he was pretty much out of op­tions; hav­ing reached his body’s lim­its from ra­di­a­tion and chemo, he could no longer rely on them to keep his can­cer in check.

Mike told his physi­cian, Dr. James Bat­tiste of the Stephen­son Can­cer Cen­ter, that he was will­ing to try any­thing to beat back the glioblas­toma. He’d read about clin­i­cal tri­als of ex­per­i­men­tal med­i­ca­tions. Was there one that might help him?

As it turned out, Bat­tiste was lead­ing a clin­i­cal trial that, he said, “just seemed per­fect for Mike.” The trial was de­signed to test OKN-007, an ex­per­i­men­tal ther­apy for glioblas­toma. The ther­apy had been born just down the street from Stephen­son, in the labs of the Ok­la­homa Med­i­cal Re­search Foun­da­tion.

An ex­per­i­men­tal drug

Ear­lier this week, OMRF an­nounced that Oblato, a biotech­nol­ogy com­pany, had ac­quired all rights to OKN007. In tri­als led by Bat­tiste, the com­pany has been test­ing the com­pound’s safety at Stephen­son since 2016.

“We’ve gone to the high­est dosage lev­els the FDA would al­low, and we haven’t seen any neg­a­tive ef­fects from the drug,” Bat­tiste said.

The next step will be to ini­ti­ate what are known as phase II tri­als. Those will con­tinue to look at the drug’s safety but also study its ef­fec­tive­ness in treat­ing glioblas­toma.

Mean­while, work­ing with OMRF’s Dr. Rheal Towner — who, along with Dr. Robert Floyd, dis­cov­ered OKN-007 as a treat­ment for glioblas­toma — Bat­tiste has been re­fin­ing ther­a­peu­tic ap­proaches for the drug. Us­ing data they’ve gen­er­ated both in pa­tients and lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ments, the pair now be­lieves the drug may prove even more ef­fec­tive when com­bined with a com­mon form of chemo­ther­apy.

Based on this data, Oblato has be­gun a sec­ond clin­i­cal trial in which pa­tients re­ceive both OKN-007 and the chemo­ther­apy drug.

There is, of course, no guar­an­tee that OKN-007 will ul­ti­mately prove ef­fec­tive. Still, this lat­est devel­op­ment is a big step for­ward.

Since the late 1980s — yes, 1980s! — OMRF has funded the re­search that led to this ex­per­i­men­tal drug. Along the way, there have been set­backs too nu­mer­ous to men­tion. But through it all, sup­port from donors and part­ners like Stephen­son and i2e, which made a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment at a cru­cial mo­ment, have helped us keep this project alive.

Now, Oblato will use its re­sources and ex­per­tise to try to bring this drug to pa­tients around the world.

A life trans­formed

Nearly two years af­ter be­gin­ning treat­ment with OKN-007, Mike Schus­ter con­tin­ues to travel from his home each week to re­ceive in­fu­sions of the drug at Stephen­son. This month marks three years since his ini­tial di­ag­no­sis, mean­ing that he’s dou­bled the ex­pected life span for glioblas­toma pa­tients.

Mike stopped by OMRF a few months ago, and he looked great. Now 53, he said he felt strong and, un­like many other brain tu­mor pa­tients, he’d even put on some weight.

“I’ve also been able to get back to the gym and so some yard work,” he said. “I feel re­ally great.”

Of course, nei­ther doc­tors nor sci­en­tists can know whether OKN-007 is re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing Mike’s can­cer at bay. Still, he feels like he made the right call to par­tic­i­pate in the clin­i­cal trial.

“Let’s just say I’ve been very blessed,” he said. “It’s pretty cool how this stuff is work­ing.”

A physi­cian and med­i­cal re­searcher, Prescott is pres­i­dent of the Ok­la­homa Med­i­cal Re­search Foun­da­tion and can be reached at omrf-pres­i­dent@omrf.org.

Stephen Prescott omrf-pres­i­dent@ omrf.org

HEALTH

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