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UA prof studying colon cancer blockers

Citizen Staff Writer



A University of Arizona professor is researching drugs that could one day prevent colon cancer.

Eugene Gerner, a UA professor of cell biology and anatomy, has been researching cancer prevention for about 25 years.

In his most recent research, he found drugs that are 95 percent effective in eliminating colon polyps, which can lead to colon cancer.

He is doing research to see if he can prevent polyps from growing in people who are predisposed to develop colon cancer. By treating them early, the therapies could stop polyps from developing.

Colon cancer is the second-biggest killer among cancers, just behind lung cancer, according to Gerner.

American Cancer Society data show that approximately 560,00 people die from all types of cancer each year and 50,000 of those die from colorectal cancer.

The most common method of early detection of polyps is through colonoscopies.

But Gerner said colonoscopies may be ineffective against certain types of polyps.

“A recent study indicates that colonoscopies do not predict risk of death from cancers arising from polyps in the right-side of the colon,” Gerner said.

Gerner started clinical trials using eflornithine and sulindac in 1997. Eflornithine was originally developed as a cancer treatment drug, but did not prove to be very effective. When combined with sulindac, which is in a class with aspirin, it significantly reduces the risk of colorectal polyps.

In June, Gerner started Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals with Frank Meyskens Jr., a professor of medicine and director of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Irvine.

According to Gerner, the drugs have minimal toxicity levels. The biggest risk is high-pitched hearing loss.

Gerner said researchers do not fully understand why this occurs, but that it is associated with a specific genetic characteristic found in about 5 percent of people.

The research is “hugely significant because there really isn’t anything out there that prevents cancer from reoccurring, so this prevents the polyps from coming back,” said Nina Ossanna, senior licensing associate at the UA Office of Technology Transfer and BIO5 Institute.

Gerner’s company hopes to get Federal Drug Administration approval within two years for small populations, also known as orphan populations. He says he is targeting approval for those populations because they are easier to get approved by the FDA.

The approval for orphan populations would allow the drug to be used to help prevent specific types of colon cancer, such as colorectal lymphoma, which accounts for less than half of 1 percent of all colorectal cancers.

The firm hopes to have an FDA approval for larger populations within five years.

The approval for larger populations would mean the drug could be used on a more general population, including those with large and advanced polyps, which affect the majority of those with colon polyps.

Gerner and Meyskens plan to start their research in the fall and do clinical trials to determine whether eflornithine taken daily, sulindac, or the combination are effective in reducing colon polyps recurrences in patients who have previously had localized or locally advanced colorectal cancers.

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