Dr. Karen Reckamp

City of Hope

University of California Los Angeles

Grant Amount: $500,000

“A few other investigative teams have benefited [from our work] around the world. The results are globally helpful.” Dr. Karen Reckamp

Cancer treatment breakthroughs typically occur with the discoveries of new drugs or radiology techniques but, thanks to the groundbreaking work of Dr. Karen Reckamp, we are witnessing the development of an innovative lung cancer treatment based on the well-known arthritis medication Celebrex.

Celebrex was introduced in 1998 as an anti-inflammatory. While at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Reckamp approached Phase ONE Foundation with a novel proposal for treating lung cancer with Celebrex to boost the body’s own immune response to cancerous tissues. After completion of the pre-clinical work at UCLA, Dr. Reckamp moved the trial to the City of Hope where she oversaw the phase one study with seven enrolled patients.

More men and women die each year from lung cancer than any other form. It takes the lives of more people than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined, and the survival rate has remained at a discouraging 15% for far too long. This cancer manifests itself as an inflammation of the lung tissues. Under normal circumstances, our body’s immune system is designed to attack the source of the inflammation and restore our good health. In this case, lung cancer cells can mask themselves from our immune system; our body never identifies the problem and the cancer grows unchecked.

Dr. Reckamp’s research and trial determined that Celebrex’s anti-inflammatory effects could reveal the cancer cells to our immune systems. Once they were unmasked, the body’s natural immune response was triggered and the cancer cells were attacked, leading to a reduction in cancer tissue.

Just 10 years ago there was little interest and a scarcity of funding for this area of research. Because of results like we are seeing from this research – which is the direct result of Phase ONE Foundation’s support, there are now other immune-modulating drugs in development that may prove even more effective in treating lung cancer.

“The goal of this study was not to observe tumor shrinkage directly, but to record the activation of the patients’ immune systems – which was observed in direct response to the treatment,” said Dr. Reckamp.

Phase two trials, which tested the efficacy of Celebrex and another drug, are already complete. As of 2015, a phase three study is underway with Celebrex and the same secondary drug, but in differing dosages. Because Celebrex was already approved by the FDA, the process for studying its secondary effects was launched more quickly than in a typical trial.

Funding from Phase ONE Foundation made it easier to secure additional grants from other supporters, and the fact that Dr. Reckamp was at both UCLA and the City of Hope during the course of this study meant that the two institutions could collaborate and enroll more patients in the trial.