YOUR HEALTH: Fast tracking drugs for the deadliest of cancers

doctor and patient

PHOENIX, Arizona – Leslie Casillas recently found out her glioblastoma is back.

But she doesn’t have symptoms and feels good.

“Sometimes, you know, I’m in the shower, I’ll think, ‘Oh, I have a brain tumor. I have cancer’ and it’ll kind of hit me for a second. And then I just kind of go about my day.”

She’s waiting to see if she gets in to a “phase zero” trial at the new Ivy Brain Tumor Center in Phoenix.

Could you be a candidate for this clinical trial?

Dr. Nader Sanai says “phase zero” trials shorten testing of new drug therapies from years to months, since the drugs are already approved for other conditions.   Doctors give patients small amounts of drug combinations they believe are a good genetic match for the tumor.   Then, surgeons remove new growth.

“In doing so, we can take the tumor that we remove in the operation, test it, and answer two basic questions: did the drug get through and did the drug do what it’s supposed to do,” explained Dr. Sanai, the Brain Tumor Center’s Medical Director.

Doctors know if there’s a drug response within seven to ten days.

“If they’re on the study and they actually graduate to the therapeutic dosing after surgery, they’re really doing so knowing that there’s some hard evidence connecting their tumor’s response to the drug,” said Dr. Sanai.

NEW RESEARCH:  Each of the study`s 20 patients had previously received the current FDA-approved standard of care, including surgery to remove their brain tumors, followed by radiation treatment and TMZ.   Each patient`s cancer had returned.   Each was then given varying doses of AZD1775 at various times just prior to operations to remove tumors that had grown back.   ‘The hope is that these drugs — AZD1775 and TMZ — could work in tandem to exploit a particular genetic vulnerability discovered by TGen in certain glioblastoma tumors,’ said Michael Berens, Ph.D., a TGen Deputy Director, a co-Director of TGen`s Early-Phase Clinical Trials Unit, and one of the study`s authors.

Leslie is thankful for new hope.

“That was exciting to me, to have the chance to take something that I know might actually work and have proof that it`s working.”

Dr. Sanai says three trials for about 50 patients are complete.   In two of them, doctors identified drugs that had an effect and will be studied further.   The third didn’t work, but he says researchers still got good information by understanding how it failed.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or  Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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