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A novel agent, OSI-774 has shown to be effective in producing anti-cancer responses in patients with advanced head and neck cancer, according to results recently reported at the 37th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The term head and neck cancer is used to refer to a number of cancers that may occur in the head and/or neck. These may include cancers of the tongue, mouth, salivary glands, pharynx, larynx, sinus, and other sites located in the head and neck area. Head and neck cancer is largely of squamous cell origin. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, biological therapy and/or chemotherapy, depending on the specific type, location, and stage (extent of disease at diagnosis) of the cancer. Advanced head and neck cancer refers to cancer that has spread from its site of origin to distant sites in the body, often including lymph nodes and/or vital organs. Patients with advanced head and neck cancer have a poor long-term prognosis. This has prompted research efforts to investigate novel therapeutic approaches to improve outcomes for patients with this disease.

Epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) are small proteins that are found on the surface of all cells. EGFR binds exclusively to small proteins circulating in the blood called growth factors. The binding action between EGFR and growth factors stimulates biological processes within the cell to promote growth of a cell in a strictly controlled manner. However, in many cancer cells, EGFR is either abundantly overexpressed or the EGFR biological processes that normally stimulate cell growth are constantly active, leading to the uncontrolled and excessive growth of the cancer cell.

OSI-774 is a novel therapeutic agent aimed at blocking the EGFR pathway. OSI-774 halts excessive cellular growth by inhibiting the EGFR process within a cell. Clinical trials are currently underway evaluating OSI-774 in a variety of cancers. Researchers from the U.S. Oncology Center recently conducted a clinical trial evaluating OSI-774 in 124 patients with advanced squamous cell head and neck cancer. The overall anti-cancer response rate following treatment was 45%. Approximately 50 patients had a disease stabilization for 3 or more months. The average survival was 174 days, with 14 patients surviving over 300 days. The most common side effect was rash and only 2 patients had to discontinue use as a result of side effects.

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These results indicate the efficacy of OSI-774 in slowing the growth of head and neck cancer cells that overexpress EGFR. Future clinical trials will evaluate OSI-774 earlier in the course of the disease and in combination with other treatment modalities. Patients with head and neck cancer may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating OSI-774 or other promising therapies. (

Proceedings from the 37th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, San Francisco, CA, May, 2001)

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