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Spring 2007

Kidney Cancer Treatments Target Specific Cells

Dramatic strides are being made in kidney cancer treatment with targeted therapies—drugs that, unlike the more toxic chemotherapy agents, aim specifically at killing cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Researchers at UCLA and elsewhere have made great progress in the last decade in understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in kidney cancer. “This is a deadly disease,” explains Arie Belldegrun, M.D., director of the UCLA Kidney Cancer Program. “Now that we have a better idea of the chain of events that are occurring in kidney cancer, we can use drugs that break one of the links in the chain,” he says. “That’s what is happening now, and it’s translating to improved survival for patients.”

In late 2005 and early 2006, two targeted drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating advanced kidney cancer: Sutent and Nexavar. A third, CCI-779, has shown great promise in clinical trials at UCLA, and a fourth, Avastin, which is approved for treating colorectal and lung cancers, is also being tested. Fairooz Kabbinavar, M.D., the UCLA Kidney Cancer Program’s medical director, has played an instrumental role in the development of Avastin and other so-called anti-VEGF drugs, which block the tumor’s blood supply.

The UCLA Kidney Cancer Program has become the world’s largest, treating more than 2,000 patients each year. Now, taking advantage of its vast database of patients treated over a 15-year period, the program has developed measures for determining patients’ prognoses and deciding who requires the most aggressive therapy.

“Kidney cancer is actually multiple diseases that we need to treat differently,” explains Dr. Belldegrun. “Using various combinations of these new drugs with surgery and chemotherapy, we are moving toward an era of personalized kidney cancer therapy.”

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