Novel treatment shows promise in regenerating bone destroyed by multiple myeloma

SAN ANTONIO (June 16, 2010) — An experimental treatment has regenerated bone destroyed by multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable cancer of the bone marrow, in 11 of the first 34 patients enrolled in a clinical study at eight research centers around the country. Improving bone density may reduce pain and fractures, keeping patients active and out of a wheelchair. It’s not uncommon for multiple myeloma to create holes in bones throughout the patient’s body, reports Swaminathan Padmanabhan, M.D., a hematologist and assistant professor of medicine at one of the research sites, the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr. Padmanabhan is director of hematological malignancies for the CTRC’s Institute for Drug Development. The new treatment, known as BHQ880, is a human monoclonal antibody designed to stimulate the bone-forming cells called osteoblasts.

“This is the first drug in human testing that can rebuild bone,” Dr. Padmanabhan states. “Other drugs like bisphosphonates add calcium to the bone to prevent bone destruction. But BHQ880 actually repairs the damage cancer causes to the bone.” The clinical study tested a combination of BHQ880 and the bisphosphonate zoledronic acid (Zometa), given intravenously.

“BHQ880 turns on switches in the body to allow new bone formation,” explains Dr. Padmanabhan. He says early signals of this process were uncovered in the laboratories of the late Gregory Mundy, M.D., a pioneer in unraveling the complex biology of bone during his 26-year career at the UT Health Science Center and later at Vanderbilt University. Relevant findings by Dr. Mundy’s team were reported in a 2008 article in the journal Blood.

Bone scans on test patients revealed an increase in bone density of up to 6 percent in several patients, but there is no evidence yet that BHQ880 has any effect on the myeloma itself. Dr. Padmanabhan reported at a national meeting in New Orleans of the American Society of Hematology that of the first 34 patients treated, several patients demonstrated improvement in bone mineral density. No patients had any adverse reactions related to the drug.

BHQ880 is manufactured by Novartis Oncology and is being tested in seven other research centers including The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute associated with Harvard Medical School in Boston. Patients who want to learn about the study’s second phase, which could begin this summer, may call the CTRC patient referral nurse at 210-450-5798.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that each year, more than 20,000 people will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma; more than 10,000 will die from the disease. Survival rates have increased from three years to as long as 10 years.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the nation’s leading academic research and treatment centers, serving more than 4.4 million people in the high-growth corridor of Central and South Texas including Austin, San Antonio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. CTRC is one of the elite cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center, and is one of the only three in Texas. A world leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development is internationally recognized for conducting one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in the clinical and/or preclinical development of many of the cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit

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