As reported by the New Haven Register, March 9, 2005.

Drug Studied at UConn Targets Ovarian Cancer

By Abram Katz

Ovarian cancer often disappears completely before recurring with fatal results.

A drug being studied at the University of Connecticut Health Center has shown promise, doubling the period before the cancer recurs.

"This sounds fairly promising," said Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the comprehensive cancer center at the UConn health center.

The investigational drug, oregovomab, was most effective in women who responded favorably to surgery and chemotherapy and who had relatively small tumors.

The 145-woman study was small and must be confirmed in larger trials, Runowicz said.

Still, oregovomab represents a novel and precise approach to treating ovarian cancer, she said.

About 25,580 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

The disease claims 16,000 women a year.

Runowicz said chemotherapy and surgery often leads to what appears to be a complete remission.

"In 80 percent of patients it recurs within two years. This is very disheartening for the patient," she said.

The ViRexx Medical Corp. of Edmonton, Canada, developed oregovomab under the name OvaRex Mab.

A subset of 67 women in the study experienced double the remission time of women who did not take OvaRex Mab, UConn found.

OvaRex Mab is a monoclonal antibody, bioengineered to attack a surface protein called CA 125. This protein is present on 80 percent of ovarian cancer tumor cells.

The monoclonal antibody is intended to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to attack and destroy the cancer.

"Prior studies showed an immune response," Runowicz said.

"We’ve learned so much about OvaRex Mab, but we now need to confirm these observations with new clinical trials," said Dr.

Jonathan S. Berek, a gynecological oncologist at UCLA’s comprehensive cancer center.

"This biological therapy is in a class of investigational treatments, known as monoclonal antibodies, which hold promise as the next important incremental advance for the disease," Berek said.

Dr. William McGuire, director of the Weinberg Cancer Institute in Baltimore, said, "If you can imagine the classic arcade game, it helps the immune system act like Pac-Men, eating the foreign proteins and fighting the tumors."

Runowicz said oncologists need more novel therapies.

Though many women believe ovarian cancer is asymptomatic until it reaches a late stage, the cancer does cause non-specific symptoms early, she said.