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OHSU Cancer Institute Marks Fifth Anniversary of Revolutionary Cancer Drug

Two internationally renowned cancer investigators to lead new Portland-based cancer research effort

Cancer survivors and community leaders today will join the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute in celebrating the fifth anniversary of Gleevec. OHSU Cancer Institute physician scientist Brian Druker, M.D., developed the drug in collaboration with Novartis scientists. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for people with the blood cancer chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in May 2001.

The once-a-day pill has improved survival for people with this disease. The first cancer therapy of its kind, Gleevec works by inhibiting an enzyme that is mutated in the disease. Prior to Gleevec, the average survival for patients with CML was about five years. With the drug, the five-year survival is 90 percent. "It's amazing to see what a difference we've made in the lives of our patients,." Druker said.

OHSU Cancer Institute leaders today also will announce the new Center for Cancer Cell Signaling, established to advance the institute's pioneering work in fighting cancer at the molecular level. Drugs that target molecular abnormalities are considered the future of cancer medicine and the best hope of enabling people to survive cancer.

Druker was the first scientist to prove the principle that molecularly targeted therapy works. "He knew that what a particular molecule did was sufficient to cause cancer, and he went after it," said Grover Bagby, M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute. Gleevec is being used in treating other cancers as well. Druker is JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research in the OHSU Cancer Institute and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

To be led by Druker and prominent OHSU Cancer Institute scientist John Scott, Ph.D., the center will be part of the OHSU Cancer Institute and will be housed on the fifth floor of the new Biomedical Research Building on Marquam Hill. Scott is Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a senior scientist at the Vollum Institute.
Druker and Scott will head an interdisciplinary team exploring the fundamental principles of cell signaling and applying them to a broad range of cancers. Cell signaling is the way cells communicate, and genetic changes in cells can alter signaling pathways to cause diseases like cancer. Detecting how and why those pathways change can provide important clues for drug therapy. Both Druker and Scott are experts on cell signaling.

According to Bagby, it is likely that similarly effective pharmaceuticals can be developed for many other cancers once their molecular targets are known. "The Center for Cancer and Cell Signaling will apply the Gleevec principle across many different kinds of cancers," he said.
Druker's and Scott's combined expertise in clinical and basic scientific research makes a formidable combination. "We want to expand our knowledge of the cell and apply what we learn to develop the next generation of drugs," Scott said.
Scott compares the cell to a city, and molecules to individuals within the city. "For that city to be able to work," he says, "people have to know where to go. The work we do identifies the mechanisms that allow that organization and transport within a cell."

The first step is to understand the fundamental cellular principles affecting various cancers. "That is where the center will begin," said Daniel Dorsa, Ph.D., vice president for research at OHSU. Ultimately, development capabilities for lead compounds will be added to the center.

Bringing research and drug development under one roof will speed the translation of therapies to patients and at the same time provide opportunities to commercialize intellectual property.

"As the center develops, scientists can use their molecular understanding of cancer to develop lead compounds to translate the research into clinical practice," Dorsa said. "Oregonians have asked us to develop and keep intellectual property and its benefits in the state. This new center would help us do just that."
Scott said the time was right for OHSU to start the Center for Cancer Cell Signaling to take advantage of its existing expertise and the new opportunities that will be made possible by the state-of-the-art Biomedical Research Building, which opened in January. "Our goal is to speed the integration of basic science into new therapies that improve the health and well-being of Oregonians," Scott said.
The Biomedical Research Building is supported by the Oregon Opportunity, a public-private partnership to make Oregon a leader in biomedical research.

Visit for more information about the development of Gleevec and about the OHSU Cancer Institute. 

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