Research in the laboratory of Ulrich Rodeck, MD, PhD, at Thomas Jefferson University, is looking to make prostate cancer (and other cancer types) radiation therapy safer and more effective for patients. Dr. Rodeck’s work with a new anti-cancer drug, RTA-408, currently being developed by Reata Pharmaceuticals, is directed toward protecting normal cells from radiation while enhancing the effects of radiation on cancer cells.
“It was really exciting to see that combining radiation and RTA-408 more effectively inhibited tumor growth compared to using either one or the other as single treatment modalities,” said Dr. Rodeck in a news release from the university.
He, along with Vitali Alexeev, PhD, and colleagues, conducted a series of experiments with potential anti-cancer compounds, radiation, and prostate cancer cells. The results were published in “Radiation Protection of the Gastrointestinal Tract and Growth Inhibition of Prostate Cancer Xenografts by a Single Compound,” in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
Of five different compounds administered to mice, RTA-408 proved to be most effective at protecting against radiation damage in the bone marrow and gut. Its efficacy was on-par with that of the only FDA-approved drug, amifostine, for protection during radiation therapy. However, unlike amifostine, it is hoped RTA-408 will not lead to severe nausea or vomiting.
To ensure radiation protection would not be conferred to tumor cells in which the treatment is directed, the researchers exposed mice with induced prostate cell tumors to radiation following RTA-408 administration and found radiation to be just as, if not more, effective. In fact, RTA-408 alone had anti-cancer properties, slowing the growth of the prostate cancer cells.
“It was a stroke of luck that the drug that most effectively protected normal cells and tissues against radiation also has anti-cancer properties, thus potentially increasing the therapeutic index of radiation therapy,” noted Dr. Rodeck.
Next on the list of experiments are studies to determine how RTA-408 protects normal cells while making cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation. REATA is currently enrolling patients in a clinical trial to use a topical form of RTA-408 to treat radiation dermatitis.