Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Clinical trial examines existing drugs for new uses in fighting brain cancer

As VCU Massey Cancer Center uncovers new biological processes related to cancer progression, sometimes new purposes for known drugs come to light. A current clinical trial offered by VCU Massey in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute is studying whether a common anti-convulsive drug, valproic acid, could help patients suffering from the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. The study tests the addition of valproic acid to the standard treatment for glioblastomas involving radiation therapy and the chemotherapy drug temozolomide (also known as Temodar and Temodal).

“We have only recently learned of the radiosensitizing effects of histone deacetylase inhibitors such as valproic acid on cancer cells,” says the co-lead investigator of this trial, Michael Chang, M.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “HDAC inhibitors have been shown to limit tumor growth by inhibiting genetic expression that proliferate cancer cells. This, in turn, helps increase the cancer-killing capacity of radiation therapies.”

Approximately 40 patients will participate in the study. Due to the rarity of glioblastomas, patients may have to travel to receive treatments. To make participation as convenient as possible, patients will receive radiation treatments at Massey’s radiation oncology clinic in Richmond, Va., but will be monitored throughout the trial by their local medical oncologist and asked to report any side effects. A local medical oncologist can be recommended if a patient does not currently have one. Radiation therapy will last approximately six-and-a-half weeks, throughout which valproic acid will be administered orally. Temozolomide will be given at the start of radiation and continue for approximately six months. Patients will be monitored for up to three years after treatment.

“Brain tumors are very difficult to treat for a number of reasons, which makes any new therapy potentially significant,” says Chang. “We are hoping these promising laboratory findings involving HDAC inhibitors translate into new therapies for people suffering from glioblastomas as well as all types of cancers.”

VCU Massey is currently conducting more than a dozen brain and central nervous system cancer clinical trials and more than 100 total trials on a variety of cancers. For more information about this and other brain cancer trials, call Diane Holdford at (804) 828-0296. View a complete list of all active clinical trials available at VCU Massey.