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IU researcher’s lung cancer work may someday improve standard of care


The IU researchers, led by John Turchi, Ph.D., professor of medicine and of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine, have been at work developing new agents for the past five years. However, in the past 12 to 18 months, Dr. Turchi said they have made positive findings in their pre-clinical analysis.

“The targets that we are looking at are completely novel,” Dr. Turchi said. “If our theory proves to be correct, it opens up an entire class of pathways that can be targeted to platinum-resistant cancers.”

Currently, the majority of lung cancer patients undergo platinum-based chemotherapy treatments, which extend a patient’s life. Over time, however, the cancer begins to resist the platinum. Dr. Turchi said, “Our agents are designed to extend the amount of time that the drugs continue to work effectively.” 

Those agents do so by targeting an entire class of proteins that make the platinum more effective, according to Dr. Turchi. “We’ve been able to do the biochemistry of how the molecule works and how it effectively kills cancer cells in conjunction with cisplatin.”

Cisplatin was used as part of the curative treatment for testicular cancer developed by Lawrence Einhorn, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Lance Armstrong Foundation Professor of Oncology at the IU School of Medicine.

Dr. Einhorn, who recruited Dr. Turchi to IU, revolutionized testicular cancer treatment. In the past, patients diagnosed with testicular cancer had approximately a 10 percent chance of survival when they developed metastatic disease. Dr. Einhorn drastically improved the survival rate when he first studied platinum combination chemotherapy in patients with metastatic testicular cancer. Today, the survival rate for all testicular cancer patients is 95 percent.

Based on work done by Dr. Einhorn, Dr. Turchi and colleagues have developed agents that are designed to work with cisplatin as part of an effective combination therapy for hard-to-treat cancers, such as lung, breast, ovarian, cervical, head and neck, and platinum-resistant germ cell tumors.

That possibility led the National Institutes of Health to award two grants (CA165848, CA162648) to NERx BioSciences Inc. Dr. Turchi serves as a co-founder and chief scientific officer of NERx, a biopharmaceutical company that focuses on developing cancer therapeutics that target the Nucleotide Excision Repair platform.

The need for new therapies is great as lung cancer is an especially devastating cancer:  87 percent of those diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer will die within two years of their diagnosis since the disease typically is discovered after it has progressed.