Dr. Nagourney creates personalized cancer treatments at Rational Therapeutics

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Dr Robert Nagourney creates personalized cancer treatments for patients like Theresa Rossiter.

Sometimes, traveling 1,000 miles for cancer care may be the most “Rational” choice a patient can make.

When Theresa (Terry) Rossiter, 67, was given the diagnosis of inoperable, metastatic lung cancer on November 11, 2009, her world ground to a halt. But, instead of “getting her affairs in order” like her physician advised, Rossiter and her husband packed their bags and moved from their home in Corvallis, Ore. to temporary housing in Long Beach, Calif.

Rossiter knew that the likelihood of tumor shrinkage with available chemotherapy was a disappointing 30 percent and her life expectancy was now measured in months. But, she wasn’t willing to take the news without a fight. Rossiter sought the opinion of her longtime Corvalis friend, molecular biologist Dr. Alan Kapuler, who himself had confronted an incurable malignancy 10 years earlier.

He told her of his experience with Rational Therapeutics in Long Beach, where a laboratory analysis tested his cancer against a number of chemotherapies to determine the most effective, “personalized” treatment options to combat his specific cancer.

“There wasn’t any question about it,” said Rossiter, “I wanted the best chance possible and Rational Therapeutics had the ability to provide it.”

So, on December 1, Rossiter and her husband, Richard, traveled from Oregon to meet with Dr. Robert Nagourney. A biopsy of her lung confirmed the diagnosis, but more importantly it provided the laboratory with the needed sample to test her tumor and identify a treatment. The chemosensitvity-resistant assay recognized one specific drug combination as the most effective at killing her cancer cells.

“The combination identified, though widely used in Europe, is not in wide use in the United States,” said Dr. Robert Nagourney, medical director of Rational Therapeutics. “In the lab, with the addition of an anti-angiogenic—a blood vessel blocking agent—to further improve the potency of the combination, we were pretty sure we had a winner for Terry.”

Indeed, this same mixture of drugs had been the subject of two highly-positive international studies reported by Canadian investigators in recent years. Rossiter was not taking any chances, she started therapy under the care of Dr. Nagourney. Within weeks her tumor markers began falling and the nagging back pain that she had endured for months disappeared. The only side effect she encountered was some fatigue.

Today, with four treatments completed, the CT/PET scans used to measure the cancer by x-ray have dramatically improved and the tumor marker tests are approaching normal. The Rossiters will remain in Long Beach with family until Terry completes her sixth chemotherapy cycle and has the results of her final CT/PRT scans.

Rossiter is participating in a clinical trial at the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial, where Dr. Nagourney serves as principal investigator, testing this new “personalized “ approach to lung cancer therapy.

“To date, we have doubled the response rate in this disease to 69 percent and have patients who are outliving average survival expectations by years,” said Dr. Nagourney. The results of this study will be presented this June at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Patients can find out more about Dr. Nagourney’s work at www.rational-t.com and about the ongoing clinical trial by contacting a Todd Cancer Institute research coordinator at (562) 933-7866.

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