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David Bricker
University Communications

Last modified: Friday, November 12, 2010

IU project will evaluate ovarian cancer drug for clinical trials

Nov. 12, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University medical scientists will receive $900,000 from the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, or OCRF, to help them prepare the new drug SGI-110 for clinical trials in patients whose once-thwarted ovarian cancer has returned.

Medical Sciences Program-Bloomington cancer biologist Kenneth Nephew is leading the project in collaboration with co-investigators Daniela Matei and John Turchi of the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. Nephew is also affiliated with the IU Simon Cancer Center.

Nephew photo

Photo by Chris Meyer

Kenneth Nephew, a cancer biologist associated with the IU School of Medicine's Medical Sciences Program-Bloomington, is the project's principal investigator.

Print-Quality Photo

"They don't just give these grants to anyone," Nephew said. "This is an affirmation of the work we've been doing, and a great opportunity for us to advance ovarian cancer therapies. To be considered and approved by the OCRF for this grant also reflects well on the quality of IU's cancer program."

This year the OCRF approved only three Program Project Development Grants, which are reserved for senior researchers whose projects are deemed most likely to bear fruit -- in the form of phase I clinical trials and, later, National Institutes of Health support.

SGI-110, a synthetic drug similar to decitabine, is currently in clinical trials with leukemia patients to determine the drug's efficacy and toxicity profile. Nephew says preliminary tests with SGI-110 suggest the drug is slightly more effective and less damaging to tissue than decitabine.

"And unlike decitabine, SGI-110 can be delivered subcutaneously outside the hospital," Nephew said. "Decitabine requires several days' worth of intravenous injection treatments in clinic. SGI-110 is more stable, and can be administered via simple injection every other day, possibly every third day.

This is pre-clinical research. Nephew, Matei and Turchi will work with IU Simon Cancer Center oncologists Bob Bigsby, Giuseppe Del Priore, and others to investigate the chemical properties of SGI-110, as well as its biochemical and molecular genetic activity in ovarian cancer cells -- specifically the ovarian cancer stem cells that give rise to the disease. Nephew said that as far as he knows, no other researchers are looking at SGI-110's impact on solid tumors.

"My own portion of the project is to look at how well SGI-110 helps eradicate these stem cells the first time a patient experiences ovarian cancer," Nephew said. "If we can get rid of these cells the first time around, we believe the cancer is less likely to come back."

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women. Worldwide, about 200,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 125,000 women die from this disease annually. In the United States alone, there will be approximately 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States each year, and about 15,500 women will die of the disease. Currently there is no effective means of early detection.

Since 1998, the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund has awarded 62 leading medical centers 164 grants for ovarian cancer research: an investment totaling nearly $40 million. OCRF is the largest independent organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to funding ovarian cancer research and to finding a cure.

To speak with Nephew, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or