TGen researchers swing for grand slam with pancreatic cancer clinical trials

Apr 13, 2016, 9:02pm MST

When Roger Magowitz’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 15 years ago, doctors knew there wasn’t much hope for survival.

“You go to the doctor and they tell you to get your affairs in order,” said Magowitz, who sold his company Mattress Discounters to care for his mother, Seena, who died within five months of her diagnosis.

He then formed the Seena Magowitz Foundation, raising more than $5 million for pancreatic cancer research at Translational Genomics Research Institute during the past 13 years.

When he sold his mattress company to Mattress Firm, part of the deal was that the new owner would continue to help support his research efforts.

Mattress Firm gave $1.5 million to TGen to help fund two clinical research trials to pair new combinations of drugs to shrink pancreatic tumors.

Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen distinguished professor and physician-in-chief and chief scientific officer for the HonorHealth Research Institute, said both of the clinical trials are new stepping stones, building on previous TGen-led studies that have produced the current treatments for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

One of the two studies, called the Grand Slam, opened for enrollment today for its first group of patients. This trial blends a combination of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and a special form of Vitamin D delivered intravenously. It builds upon the positive findings from TGen Triple, the first of the two clinical trials, which paired three drugs and shrunk tumors in the patients treated in that trial.

In that TGen Triple trial, tumors completely disappeared in 20 percent of the patients in that trial, while tumors shrunk at least 30 percent in 55 percent of the patients in the study, Von Hoff said.

“We want 100 percent with total disappearance,” Von Hoff said. “But we’re on a roll toward making that happen.”

The clinical trials are being conducted at HonorHealth in Scottsdale and could expand to other facilities, including Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Horowitz said Von Hoff has developed more oncology drugs than any other doctor in the country.

“If you go to your oncologist and they don’t know the name Dr. Von Hoff, leave that office because he’s the guy that wrote the books,” Horowitz said. “He’s the guy that developed all the drugs.”

Dr. Von Hoff’s major interest is in the development of new anticancer agents, both in the clinic and in the laboratory. He and his colleagues were involved in the beginning of the development of many of the agents we now use routinely, including: mitoxantrone, fludarabine, paclitaxel, docetaxel, gemcitabine, irinotecan, nelarabine, capecitabine, lapatinib and others.