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Lung cancer: Approach for new combined treatment

(Vienna, 23 August 2010) One reason for the frequent failure of innovative chemotherapies for treating lung cancer has been discovered by an international team of scientists with a key role played by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Cancer Research (LBI-CR) and the Institute for Clinical Pathology at the Medical University of Vienna. It is a known inflammatory factor which protects the cancer cells from the therapy's attack. The work under the auspices of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (US state of New York) has been published in the renowned scientific journal "PNAS".

For a targeted fight against lung cancer using drugs, doctors take advantage of the fact that in the cancer cells a receptor called "Epidermal Growth-Factor Receptor" (EGFR) is particularly often mutated and highly active. "A blockade of the receptors using the tyrosine kinase inhibitors 'erlotinib' or 'gefitinib' therefore kills tumour cells in more than 80 percent of patients," Lukas Kenner from the LBI-CR, who also works as a professor at MedUni Vienna, explained to the Austrian Press Agency APA.

The therapy often quickly loses steam despite a good initial effect. The team of researchers has now discovered a reason for this: the production of the inflammatory factor interleukin-6 (IL-6) protects the cancer cells from the attack of the tyrosine kinase inhibitors. This means the cancer can continue to grow again. This even leads to a vicious circle: the more cells survive, the more IL-6 is produced by tumour cells and inflammation cells.

"If IL-6 or its receptor (IL-6R) are now suppressed, the effectiveness of innovative therapies could be re-established," explains Kenner. There are already approved drugs against IL-6, so for combined therapy there would not need to be any approval procedures lasting for years. The results have been achieved on animal models, tumour samples from affected patients and also on cultures of human cancer cells.