A study recently published in the journal eLife touts the advantages of potentially using combination therapies to treat cancers, a theory that scientists and professors say could eventually lead towards a cure for cancers of all varieties, even the tough-to-treat forms of the disease.
A story on Voice of America profiles the research of Martin Nowak, Harvard University professor of mathematics and biology who is also director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, and co-author Ivana Bozic, a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics. Nowak was one of several researchers who analyzed how quickly the AIDS virus mutates against a single drug, a finding that led to the use of a combination or “cocktail” of antiretroviral drugs to treat the disease. Today, the AIDS virus is barely detectable in HIV patients that have been prescribed this successful drug combination.
Nowak, Bozic, and others think the same thing could happen with cancer treatment. “These [AIDS] calculations led the medical community very quickly to adopt the combination treatment,” Nowak said. “And so in some sense, I want to achieve the same for the cancer community.”
These days, many cancer patients are treated with so-called targeted therapy that inhibits specific genetic mutations that cause tumors to grow and then to spread. But cancers can return because they develop resistance to a drug that is focused on a single abnormal gene. But, ponders Nowak, what if two drugs target two different genetic mutations at the same time?
To test their theory, Nowak and his colleagues created a computer model using data from a group of deceased melanoma patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and patients who died from various forms of cancer at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. They used the data to predict patients’ response to combination therapies and concluded that they “could potentially be cured using two drugs that target different genetic mutations simultaneously.”
“I’m sure in a few years you will have many success stories when this will gradually lead to a situation where most cancers will be contained in the way that many bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics,” says Nowak, looking towards the future, adding that several pharmaceutical companies worldwide are actively pursuing combination therapy options.