On Receipt 12/29/94


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As an experimental anti-cancer drug, deoxycoformycin (dCF) surprised researchers with its potent activity against a rare form of cancer. New research shows that the drug treatment also has long-term effectiveness.

In addition, the work indicates that the drug has fewer long-term complications for patients than some physicians expected.

The drug was first tested in patients in the early 1980s. It was found to have significant anti-cancer activity in patients with hairy cell leukemia.

The new study looked at a group of these patients who were given dCF in the '80s for treatment of advanced hairy cell leukemia and went into remission.

"Almost all of these patients are still alive after an average of almost eight years following treatment," said Eric Kraut, professor of internal medicine at Ohio State University and medical oncologist with the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Research Institute.

"This study shows that dCF can alter the course of hairy

cell leukemia. It has been an illness that was often fatal within five years after diagnosis. But many patients who were in an advanced stage of disease when treated with dCF are still alive nine and ten years later and either off treatment or needing occasional retreatment."

Hairy cell leukemia is one of several malignancies for which a five-year disease-free period is insufficient to call a patient cured.

"This is a slow-growing tumor, so we can never call a person cured until there's been a 20- or 25-year follow-up," said Kraut.

The study, which appeared in the Dec. 15th issue of the journal Blood, looked at 23 patients who had been treated with deoxycoformycin almost 4-1/2 to more than 8-1/2 years earlier.

At the time of the study, 12 of the 23 patients showed no signs of relapse. A relapse had occurred in the other 11. Seven of the relapsed patients had been retreated. (The other four had also shown signs of relapse, but their disease was stable, making retreatment unnecessary. Instead, the patients were being carefully monitored for signs of progression.)

A side effect of dCF is suppression of the immune system. This led some researchers to predict that patients receiving dCF would experience a high rate of infections and secondary cancers.

But no cases of serious infections had arisen in the patients. Although three cases of skin cancer and one case of early Hodgkin's lymphoma occurred, the incidence of these malignancies was not significantly greater than what might be expected in this group of older patients. (The patients were more than 64 years of age, and all had been successfully treated and showed no signs of these secondary cancers at the time of the study.)

"The results of this study are gratifying and demonstrate that it is possible to change the course of cancer with drug therapy," said Kraut.

"It also shows that searching for new drugs is still a very important part of cancer research. It's important for the government to support that work, and for patients to get involved in the clinical trials that test new drugs."

Hairy cell leukemia, a disease that was first described in 1958 by researchers at Ohio State, strikes about 400 Americans a year.

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Contact: Eric Kraut, (614) 293-8726

Written by Darrell E. Ward, (614) 292-8456