Cancer Fighters Of The Future

CBS News takes a look at the 2lst century's prospects for better, more effective ways to fight one of the worst medical scourges of the 20th century: cancer.

Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin explores the cutting edge of cancer treatment.

Yuly Kipervarg complains that he's not as fast as he used to be. But it was less than a year ago that he, then 33, embarked on the race of his life, against advanced colon cancer.

"I had a lot of doubts about whether I was going to make it and how long I was going to live," Kipervarg says.

Having just started his own career as a doctor, Kipervarg knew the odds. His only real hope: an experimental new drug called SU5416.

SU5416, now being tested at the University of California at Los Angeles' Jonsson Cancer Center, is only one of about 40 angiogenesis inhibitors in development. Doctors believe these drugs have the potential to be the cancer fighters of the future.

The theory behind this new class of drugs is that tumors need to create blood vessels to grow, a process known as angiogenesis. The idea is that if drugs could inhibit or stop the new blood vessels that can starve the cancer, they could stop it from growing and maybe even shrink the tumor.

For seven months, Kipervarg has been getting SU5416 twice a week in combination with chemotherapy.

"I feel extremely lucky to be here at this time because five years ago, three years ago this would not have been an option," says Kipervarg.

Dr. Lee Rosen oversees UCLA's experimental cancer therapy program and Kipervarg's progress.

When asked if Kipervarg's cancer has gone away, Rosen says, "yes."

At the same time, patients at Boston's Dana Farber's Cancer Institute have just entered the first clinical trials of endostatin, one of the most talked about angiogenesis inhibitors.

And at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Gayle Gordon is pinning her hopes on another drug: combretastatin.

That compound is so sensitive to light, Gordon gets her treatment sitting in the dark.

"Hopefully it's just saving my life because I have so many things to live for," she says.

She survived breast cancer only to learn she had colon cancer. Four surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation failed. After seven months of receiving only combretastatin, her doctor, Scott Remick, says Gordon's cancer has stabilized.

"Before we cure cancer, we might be on the threshold of making cancer a chronic illness or chronic disease that can be medically managed, and that might be where these drugs have a big role just in terms of keeping tumors in check," says Remick.

But it's cases like Clayton Twigg's that make doctors think that these drugs may hav the power to even cure. CATscans show that after nine months on combretastatin, Twigg's thyroid cancer is completely gone.

Twigg and his wife Rose credit the new drugs with giving them a future together they had just about given up on.

Twigg says, "It's helped me and hopefully it's going to help others. They are just scratching the surface....We don't know yet."

Remick is careful to call Clayton Twigg's case extraordinary and back in Los Angeles Dr. Rosen says it's too soon to tell if Kipervarg's cancer will stay in remission. But in the same breath these doctors admit angiogenesis inhibitors are the groundwork for beating cancer early in the next century.

When asked if these drugs are our next best hope, Rosen replies, "Sitting here in 1999? Yeah, I think they are among our next best hopes."

It's hope in the future, where in the past there had been no hope at all.

Read Part 2 of this report on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and find out about genetic medicines, tailor-made just for you, that may treat, even prevent cancer in the next century.

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