new research into preventing spread

FYI: This is a download off today’s University of Helsinki’s front page. It sounds interesting - but the results won’t be around for a while.


"Researchers find gene that can prevent the spread of cancer

One of the body’s genes, receptor VEGFR-3, prevents the growth of both lymphatic vessels and the blood vessels in cancerous tumours.

Biomedicum Helsinki

Kari Alatalo’s research group has discovered that a certain growth factor receptor, VEGFR-3, influences the formation of blood vessels in cancerous tumours. Thus, it can stop the spread of cancer.

“Cancerous tumours cannot grow without the oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood vessels. The VEGFR-3 antibody reduces the number of blood vessels and slows their growth,” explains Tuomas Tammela, head researcher in the project.

Earlier, the research group observed that the same gene blocks the growth of lymphatic vessels around the tumour. The lymphatic vessels are an important route for the spread of tumours.

“The latest research results confirmed that the receptor blocks the growth of both blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. This can help us deal with the spread of cancer in a completely new way,” sums up Tammela.

The results have accelerated the development of a new type of cancer drug.

The antibody has been licenced by American pharmaceutical company ImClone, and the results of the first patient trials should be available in 2010.

Other organisations involved in the drug development are the University of Helsinki and Vegenics Ltd., which is owned by an Australian biotechnology company.

The drug will be available in pharmacies in 5-7 years."

Thanks Emelle for information.

I think there’s quite a lot of research and drug development going on around VEGF. Avastin is one of the drugs which aims to ‘choke’ blood vessels. I think there is some controversy about whether research in this area is a real step forward or just another expensive tiny incremental treatment.

Google: Why we’re losing the war on cancer…r a development of this argument from Fortune magazine. I think you’ll find it interesting.

best wishes


Jane, just read ‘Why we’re losing the war on cancer’. It makes very depressing reading.

Hi Roadrunner

I don’t think the article makes me feel depressed so much as thoughtful and angry.

Since diagnosis I have searched and searched for a cancer campaign or charirty with a cutting edge and a vision and an understanding to really put these issues on the agenda. There feels like there is little which is radical around cancer campaigning in this country…there are pockets of it in the USA but it doesn’t seem to filter here where we are all fed a diet that says cancer treatments are improving, the ‘cure’ is round the corner etc etc.


Hi Jane

i don’t think I can bear to read that article…you are so right we keep getting fed this blah blah, its not serious etc…treatments fantastic it will all be alright. I even had lengthy discussions with my GP as to why I would need zoladex and wasn’t that oiver the top. Looks like I was right afetr all unfortunately. Truth is I think that PR effects the treatment you receive sometines,


Hi emelle,

Interesting, could be something, but I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about it. It doesn’t sound like they have even made it through the animal stage yet. One of the difficulties I think that cancer patients have is that we end up reading so much PR that may be intended for another audience, such as potential investors or whoever else the University of Helsinki is trying to impress (funding bodies? potential medical students? other universities?) I think this press release errs in making it seem like it is just a matter of time before the drug ends up in the pharmacy and it is just not that simple.

To keep things in perspective, I will just quote two experts on scientific innovation, Josh Lerner and Adam Jaffe. The material in brackets is my explanation:
p. 42 ‘Out of 5,000 to 10,000 compounds screened for clinical use [treatment of patients], 250 will possibly merit pre-clinical testing [this is the animal testing phase], five of which will show enough merit for clinical testing [this means human trials]. Of the five drugs subjected to expensive clinical testing, only one will be approved by the FDA.’ (from their book Innovation and Its Discontents, which is on patent law).

So, if something hasn’t been through the animal stage, the odds of it becoming a treatment in the end are only about one in 250. Once I read those figures I stopped paying any attention to anything that hadn’t passed the animal stage since the odds just weren’t good enough.

From what I have heard, the people involved in cancer research don’t expect a cure for another thirty years or so, but I think that some important things have been learned. For example, one of the reasons that cancer treatments haven’t been working is that many cancers involve cancerous stem cells. These are cells that produce other cancerous cells. Unfortunately, many chemos focus on traits that stem cells lack, such as rapid division. Stem cells are not completely untouchable: herceptin can kill off some her2-positive cancerous stem cells (latest estimate 80%), for example, but it requires a completely different way of thinking about treatments.

A big part of the problem with cancer in this country is that medical research in particular and cancer research in particular is not funded in a serious manner. As much as I love CRUK, I don’t think it is right that medical research is so dependent on fun runs, bake sales, charity shops, let alone wills (I know why they do this, but personally I dislike it because I want them to have every incentive to keep me alive). As Lizziecee has often pointed out based on the experience of her nephew, cancer researchers in this country are very poorly paid, which makes it difficult for many bright people to undertake this career if they want to stay in this country. Unfortunately, the lastest move seems to be for the stroke charities and Alzheimer’s charities to point out that they are relatively underfunded compared with cancer, which very well might be considering how much very expensive long term incapacity they cause, but it is a shame that they seek some of cancer’s research funding instead of making the general point that medical research needs more money.

I suppose that the myth that a cure for cancer is just around the corner serves alot of purposes. The medical research community doesn’t have to answer for why there has been so little progress on cancer (high-tech entrepreneurs with cancer in the US have been most effective making this criticism, since their R&D has been more productive). At the same time, it is very comforting for the public.

Thanks as ever Christine for your informative post. I wonder if you have read the article I referred to earlier and what you make of it??

Intuitively I feel that its not the amount of money spent on research which is the problem…billions has been poured into breast cancer research for relatively little return…(and good on Alzheimers organisations for wanting a better slice of the cake…perhaps they’ll use the money more wisely than breast cancer researchers seem to right now) but something more fundamental about who controls the research, in whose interests it is done, what kind of research is done.

I recently downloaded Breakthrough’s ‘bi-annual jounral of research innovations’ and reading it I feel like I’m in fairy tale land.The research all seems to me to be incredibly over hyped (e.g. an “innovative way to target triple negative breast cancer” is nothing more than comparing taxotere with carboplatin…f*** f*** they don’t b*** work…) and over optimistic…some professor proclaiming that in 20 years ‘very few’ women will die of breast cancer…yeah…yeah…blah…blah…pull the other one.

I am under no illusions that anything the research community is doing will save my life but it would be nice to know that a real strategy and vision for resaerch was actually in place for those who come after me.


Hi Jane,

I thought it was good. Although the cancer researchers have tried to deal with some of the problems since this article was written, they don’t necessarily have a clear solution. Ok, giving a bunch of mice cancer isn’t working but what do you move on to? Doing the testing in dogs with spontaneous breast cancer has been proposed, but this type doesn’t exactly match the types on humans (as I recall the type I have had, hormon-receptor negative, her2-positive is a very doggy type).

One of the additional criticisms is that drugs companies haven’t dropped drugs fast enough. One of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs felt that the drugs companies needed to do more phase I trials but drop drugs very early if the results aren’t good.

So, no solutions, just more thoughts.