Multiple myeloma is a deadly blood cancer that killed an estimated 11,000 Americans in 2004. It is also resistant to certain important cancer drugs. That may be changing, however, as a result of research being done at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The doctors at Dana-Farber, working with other specialists at Harvard University and the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have devised a promising treatment strategy that includes using a combination of the existing drug, Velcade (bortezomib), and an experimental compound known as tubacin which was designed by researchers at Harvard and the Broad Institute.

The findings, which will be published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at http://www.pnas.org/papbyrecent.shtml, demonstrate that the combination drug therapy was more than twice as effective in destroying cells from patientsí bone marrow as either drug individually.

Velcade, a first generation proteasome inhibitor (blocks protein disposal by the cells), has been effective in destroying certain cancer cells. Unfortunately, others cancers are resistant to the drug because they have an alternative protein disposal mechanism (aggresome) that allows the cell to survive even if proteasome is blocked. Tubacin was specifically designed to block aggresome from functioning. The researchers believe if both protein-disposal mechanisms are blocked in the resistant cells, they will die.

The results of the laboratory research have been so encouraging that the team is eager to move into clinical trials as soon as possible. It is hoped that tubacin will prove effective in overcoming resistance to Velcade thereby improving the treatment outcome for patients with multiple myeloma.

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