Projects Led by Memorial Sloan Kettering Investigators Listed among Top Cancer Advances of 2012

Pictured: Charles Sawyers' Laboratory

The laboratory of Charles Sawyers played a role in developing Enzalutamide, a drug shown to significantly increase survival in men with advanced prostate cancer.

Each year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) publishes a report on the major achievements in clinical cancer research that have the greatest potential impact on patients’ lives.

This year’s report, Clinical Cancer Advances 2012: ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer, includes several significant successes led by Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators.

FDA Approves Targeted Therapy for Advanced Prostate Cancer

Included in ASCO’s top five advances of 2012 was the US Food and Drug Administration approval of the targeted therapy enzalutamide (Xtandi®) for men with advanced prostate cancer.

Enzalutamide – developed in part by physician-scientist Charles L. Sawyers, Chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program – was shown to significantly increase survival in men with advanced disease. The international phase III trial that paved the way to the drug’s FDA approval was led by medical oncologist Howard I. Scher, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Genitourinary Oncology Service.

The ASCO report referred to the enzalutamide results as “remarkable,” and noted that the drug has become the “new standard treatment option for men with chemotherapy-treated prostate cancer.”

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Major Strides against Breast Cancer

Other major advances cited in the report include research led by Memorial Sloan Kettering’s new Physician-in-Chief, José Baselga.

Dr. Baselga led a phase III trial involving the drugs trastuzumab (Herceptin®) and pertuzumab (Perjeta™) — two antibodies that work by inactivating a protein called HER2, which can be overproduced in some breast cancer cells. The trial found that combining the drugs with standard chemotherapy delays the resistance to treatment in patients with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. Based on these results, the FDA approved the combination of drugs as a first-line therapy for women with this type of breast cancer.

Dr. Baselga also led another phase III study cited as a major advance. This found that adding a targeted therapy called everolimus (Afinitor®) to aromatase inhibitors — drugs that block estrogen, a fuel for some breast cancers — delayed the progression of disease in certain women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. The results led to the FDA approval of combination therapy with everolimus for these patients.

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Genetic Testing and Screening for Lung Cancer

In the area of lung cancer research, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s molecular testing project – known as the Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Lung Mutation Analysis Program (SQ-MAP) and led by medical oncologist Paul K. Paik – began testing for three new genetic targets that together occur in approximately 50 percent of patients with squamous cell carcinomas of the lung, one of the most common types of lung cancer.

According to the ASCO report, “In the future, SQ-MAP may become an important platform that will guide drug development and personalized treatment planning.”

In addition, a group of researchers and medical societies led by epidemiologist Peter Bach analyzed years of data on low-dose CT screening for lung cancer. Their analysis found that CT screening for lung cancer may prevent one in five cancer deaths for people at a very high risk of developing the disease, and led to the publication of new clinical practice guidelines.

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Investigating New Therapies for Sarcoma

Medical oncologist Mark A. Dickson and Gary K. Schwartz, Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Melanoma and Sarcoma Service, led studies on two new investigational agents for patients with certain types of sarcoma.

In one study, led by Dr. Dickson, research showed that the drug PD0332991, which blocks the protein CDK4, extended the time it took for cancer to progress in 70 percent of patients with liposarcoma. CDK4 is overproduced in approximately 90 percent of patients with certain forms of liposarcoma, which is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma affecting adults. Based on these results, a phase III study is planned.

Dr. Schwartz’s study showed that combining two protein-blockers (cixutumumab, an investigational antibody, and temsirolimus (Torisel®), a targeted therapy already approved for kidney cancer) delayed disease progression in patients with chemotherapy-resistant bone and soft tissue sarcomas.

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Studying a Targeted Therapy for Thyroid Cancer

In many patients, thyroid cancer cells often lose their ability to trap radioactive iodine, a treatment used for thyroid cancers that recur or spread to different parts of the body.

In 2012, medical oncologist Alan L. Ho led a small but promising study that suggested the experimental targeted therapy selumetinib may improve uptake of radioactive iodine in certain patients with metastatic thyroid cancer.

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New Drug for Advanced Kidney Cancer

The FDA approval of axitinib (Inlyta®) for patients with advanced kidney cancer was based, in part, on research led by medical oncologist Robert J. Motzer.

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Read the Full Report

These and other significant cancer advances are discussed in ASCO’s 2012 annual report.

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Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for providing this great post. It really was incredible the advances that have been made in cancer treatment and diagnosis practices. I was wondering if you had heard that Bill Gates had recently invested in Foundation Medicine, a company that specializes in DNA sequencing for cancer. I am really excited what this type of backing could open up for them. If you are interested, you can check out the full at:…

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Saludos, hace poco tiempo tuvimos resultados con mutación del brca1 y nos ofrecen llevar acabo el genoma del primer cancer y de la recaída, mi pregunta es, con los resultados que nos den donde puedo sacar la máxima interpretación posible ? a que cientifico investigador le pueden interesar esta informacion

I am glad to see the improvements in testing regarding lung cancer. My husband of almost 45 years who was a heavy smoker till age 54 died a year ago last Nov. 2nd as the result of this type of cancer. I believe had the CT screening for lung cancer you describe been available, he might still be alive. Keep up the good work.


MSK is one of my favorite charities. When I read a report such as this, I feel very proud that I have supported MSK. All of us have been touched by cancer in some way. Please know that your hard work and dedication are very much appreciated. Thank you!