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Combining Targeted Drugs to Stop Resistant Tumors

Science  25 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6024, pp. 1542-1545
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6024.1542

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Summary

In the past few years, researchers have reported dramatic responses to a handful of new drugs that are given to cancer patients with a specific mutation in their tumors. But although these drugs can shrink solid tumors and extend patients' lives, for reasons that are still not well understood, they never completely eliminate the cancer. Researchers are seeking to identify the ways that tumors resist the drug, then find or develop second-generation drugs that block these escape routes so they can design a cocktail—perhaps two, three, or more drugs—that, if given when a patient is first diagnosed, could stop tumors from ever evading the blockade. This approach has worked for patients infected with HIV, who usually take three antiviral drugs, and many researchers say there's no reason it shouldn't work for cancer. But even if a combination therapy stops tumor growth, it may not buy patients more than a temporary reprieve, researchers admit. To stretch the benefit over years, it might be necessary to devise one complex cocktail after another, each tailored to a patient's evolving tumors.