On July 3, 2004, the day after his wedding, Clint Gibler broke his leg. “Good thing we weren’t on our honeymoon,” Gibler said.
However, this was not an ordinary broken bone. A tumor had weakened the femur in Gibler’s leg, which led to the break. After some testing, Gibler received his diagnosis a few days later. It was advanced kidney cancer. “I felt like I was going to die,” said the Oregon native and Gresham resident. “I found out I had kidney cancer and that there aren’t many treatments and no cure for it.”
On July 26, his 51st birthday, surgeons removed Gibler’s kidney. He received 14 radiation treatments to the femur during a three-week period. Then he waited for a new Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute clinical trial to begin.
The trial, which opened last September, offers research subjects who qualify a new, targeted therapy in addition to standard immune therapy. The drug combination is being studied in a national Phase II clinical trial led by OHSU Cancer Institute researcher Christopher Ryan, M.D., through the Southwest Oncology Group, one of the largest clinical trial cooperative groups in the United States.
While enrollment in this trial is limited and will close shortly, it is an example of the type of cancer research being conducted at OHSU. The OHSU Cancer Institute is one of only about 60 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers around the country and remains the only such center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 120 clinical researchers and basic scientists who are working together to translate scientific understanding into longer and better lives for cancer patients.
More than 36,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed among Americans in 2005 and about 12,600 adults and children will die of this disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Only about 15 percent of kidney cancer patients respond to treatments currently available, so finding new options for people with this disease is very important,” explained Ryan, who is an assistant professor of medicine (hematology/medical oncology) in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Ryan first became aware of the new treatments he is now evaluating in his study while he was practicing at the University of Chicago. He found that several of his kidney cancer patients responded well to a new drug called BAY 43-9006. A report of that study later showed that tumors in about 70 percent of the research subjects shrank within 12 weeks of starting the drug.
BAY 43-9006 interferes with the action of the Raf kinase and other receptor enzymes that are thought to be overactive in cancerous cells, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. “We think the drug works by stopping the out-of-control blood vessel growth that is known to occur in kidney cancer,” said Ryan. His trial is the first to examine the BAY compound as a first-line treatment for kidney cancer.
Gibler was among the first to enroll in the clinical trial. “I just feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. They found the cancer before it killed me,” Gibler said. “There is something else that gives me hope – this drug. Before the drug, there wasn’t any hope.”
In addition to this clinical trial, the OHSU Cancer Institute is offering other trials involving targeted therapies for kidney cancer. For more information, call the OHSU Cancer Institute information line at 503 494-6835.
Funded primarily by the National Cancer Institute, the Southwest Oncology Group is a network of more than 5,000 physician-scientists practicing throughout the United States who work together to prevent and improve cancer treatment for adults. The group studies many different types of cancer, including genitourinary, breast, gastrointestinal, lung, and head and neck cancer, as well as melanoma, myeloma, sarcoma, lymphoma and leukemia. About 120 clinical trials are conducted by the group at any given time.