"We estimated from preclinical data that the new drug--olaratumab--might improve survival in these patients by a few months, but the extent of the improvement exceeded everybody's expectations," said study leader Gary K. Schwartz, MD, professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and chief of the division of hematology and oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. "While sarcoma remains a fatal disease, we're encouraged that we're on the right track and hope to build on this progress."
Soft-tissue sarcomas are a group of cancers that arise in fat, muscle, nerves, joint linings, blood vessels, and other tissues that connect, support, and surround various body structures. There are more than 50 different types of soft-tissue sarcomas.
If caught early, sarcomas can be treated effectively with surgery. However, if the disease spreads, or metastasizes, treatment with chemotherapy does relatively little to slow disease progression or improve survival. The median survival time after diagnosis of advanced disease is 12 to 16 months. In 2015, 12,000 people were diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcomas and 5,000 died of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
Several years ago, Dr. Schwartz (then at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) reported that a cell-surface receptor called platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFR-alpha)--found in many people with soft-tissue sarcoma--appeared to play a key role in tumor growth in specific sub-types of soft-tissue sarcoma. By inhibiting this receptor, he was able to get the sarcoma cells to stop growing in his laboratory.