One of the most challenging cancers to treat is also one of the rarest, which only adds to the challenge of finding potential new therapies.
Now adrenal cancer researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center are seeing the results of their laboratory studies translate to a clinical trial to test a potential new therapy in patients.
Researchers Tom Kerppola, Ph.D., and Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., collaborated to test a new compound, ATR-101, in cell lines and mice. Their studies found that ATR-101 selectively killed the adrenal and adrenal cancer cells with very little effect on other cells in the body.
Less than a year after these findings, ATR-101 is now in a phase I clinical trial at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, testing the safety of the compound in people with advanced adrenocortical carcinoma. The trial, which is the first time this compound is being tested in humans, will enroll 21 participants. The drug is a pill taken orally.
The ATR-101 study is offered by Atterocor Inc., a Michigan-based company that was co-founded by Hammer to develop new adrenal cancer therapies. Hammer serves as a consultant to Atterocor and is chairman of the scientific advisory board. He is not involved in the clinical trial at U-M.
"Many adrenal cancer patients are desperate for new therapeutic options, and ATR-101 is one of the few compounds in the world directed at this ultra-rare disease," says Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Hammer's endowed professorship is the result of years of fundraising by legendary U-M football coach Bo Schembechler, whose wife Millie died of adrenal cancer. This funding directed specifically at adrenal cancer has allowed U-M to create a level of expertise -- both research and patient care -- in this extremely rare disease.
Adrenal cancer is one of the most deadly types of cancer, with few treatment options available. Standard therapy, which causes severe side effects, has been the same for more than 40 years. About 500 people will be diagnosed with adrenal cancer this year in the United States and most will die within five years. The disease is often diagnosed at a late stage and surgery is rarely an option.
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