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Akil Merchant, MD

USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Grant Amount: $320,000

A Phase I Dose Escalation Study with Expansion to Evaluate the Safety and Preliminary Efficacy of sEPHB4-HSA in Combination with Cytarabine or Liposomal Vincristine in Patients with Relapsed or Refractory Acute Leukemia

Adult acute leukemia remains a deadly disease for which new treatments are urgently needed. Both common types of acute leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL), can be treated with chemotherapy, which induces remission in many patients; however, the leukemia almost always relapses, and most patients with relapsed disease have only months to live, making the need for new treatments for relapsed leukemia particularly critical.

EphB4, a protein that is found in many types of cancer including leukemia, promotes cancer growth. By targeting EphB4, we aim to reduce the growth of leukemia cells and make the cancer more sensitive to chemotherapy. USC has developed an agent, sEphB4-HSA, that can target EphB4 in patients. This agent has been tested in Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials for patients with different types of tumors and was found to be safe, with some patients having a dramatic response to the drug. In addition, Dr. Akil Merchant’s team has demonstrated in pre-clinical studies that this strategy is effective against EphB4-positive leukemia. In this study, we are testing sEphB4-HSA in combination with chemotherapy to determine if these medicines can be given safely together and if they are more effective against leukemia than chemotherapy alone. Ultimately, we hope to translate sEphB4-HSA into safer and more effective treatment for patients with relapsed leukemia.