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Cancer Drug Isolates Its Target

Charlene Frierson comes to New Orleans from her home in Picayune, Miss., while Harry Pollard drives from his home in Mobile, Ala.

Both have terminal cancer, and like many other patients from all over the United States, they are turning to doctors at Louisiana State University Medical Center for a second chance at life, reports Correspondent Meg Farris of CBS News affiliate WWL-TV in New Orleans.

Pollard was told he had a rare form of cancer five years ago. He's had numerous treatments with radiation, chemotherapy, interferon injections, and surgeries. But his cancer had spread and he had exhausted his options with standard cancer treatments. Now he says a new experimental treatment at LSU is his last resort.

A team of LSU doctors took a radioactive product that had been used for years to find and diagnose a tumor and turned it into a treatment to destroy tumors.

The therapy worked "beyond our expectations," says Dr. Kevin McCarthy, Director of Nuclear Medicine at LSUMC, and one of the drug's researchers.

We're really kind of knocked over by how promising this product was and still is," he says.

SomatoTher acts like a smart bomb. When it is injected into the blood stream it finds and attaches itself to the cancerous tumor. It then gets inside the DNA or genetic material in the cell where it releases its radioactive payload. Each cancer cell gets a direct dose of radiation from the inside while all the healthy tissue remains undamaged.

Doctors saw shrinkage in tumors, a decrease in the thickness of tumors and fewer of the hormones being produced by the tumors. Some patients were able to return to work and get off of their pain medication -- patients who previously had been given only a few months to live.

"We're looking at a three- to six-fold increase in expected survival," says Dr. Lowell Anthony, a hematology/oncology specialist who led the team of researchers.

In a pilot study conducted in 1997, patients had virtually none of the side effects associated with chemotherapy or radiation treatment such as hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite or a significant decrease in white blood cell counts.

Doctors currently are treating a rare form of cancer known as neuroendocrine tumors, but they think one day this treatment could be used to fight cancers of the breast, brain, lymph nodes, lungs, kidney and even melanoma. They say it could revolutionize cancer treatment.

The experimental drug was developed at LSU, who received a grant from the Food and Drug Administration to develop the "orphan drug" -- a designation which allows researchers to focus on rare, but life-threatening diseases that might otherwise be left unexamined in favor of more common diseases.

Because LSU is a medical center and requires a partnership with a pharmaceutical program to take the experimental drug to the next level of FDA approval, doctors say they currently have no open clinical trials available.

ospital spokesperson Leslie Capo says LSU Medical Center hopes to find a pharmaceutical company and form a partnership with them to bring the treatment to the market sooner.

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