New Drug Could Play Dual Role in Cancer

June 1, 1996

WASHINGTON--In an experiment that may blur the line between therapeutic and preventive medications, researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, plan to move a novel new compound to phase II testing in advanced cancer patients.

WASHINGTON--In an experiment that may blur the line between therapeuticand preventive medications, researchers from the University ofWisconsin, Madison, plan to move a novel new compound to phaseII testing in advanced cancer patients.

Results from a phase I trial still in progress show "verymanageable, very low toxicity and some hints of response,"Michael N. Gould, PhD, reported at the American Association ofCancer Researchers (AACR) meeting.

The compound, perillyl alcohol, originally isolated from lavenderoil, is a monoterpene, one of a group of naturally occurring compoundsthat Dr. Gould and his colleagues have explored with the aim offinding a drug to do dual duty in prevention and treatment.

Since precancerous cells and fully malignant cells share manycharacteristics, cells in either state might respond to a singleagent, the team suggests.

"What we're starting to look at is a continuum between chemopreventionand chemotherapy," said Dr. Gould, professor of human oncology."In chemotherapy, we're beginning to see that some of thesame targets that might be useful for preventing cancer mightalso be useful for treating cancer. The idea is to take advantageof this continuum."

Inducing Apoptosis

The Wisconsin researchers have found that perillyl alcohol andother monoterpenes can induce programmed cell death (apoptosis).The biochemical mechanism involves degrading a growth factor necessaryfor cell division and activating a factor that causes cells todifferentiate and stop dividing.

Said Dr. Gould: "With that as a background, we were encouragedenough from both the new mechanisms and the lack of toxicity togo to the clinic."

Now the research team is in the midst of a phase I therapeutictrial in an unselected group of advanced cancer patients. At thispoint, preliminary results are available from only a dozen patients."But," Dr. Gould said, "we've been encouraged,and we're planning to progress to phase II in a series of cancers,including breast, prostate, and ovarian."