For the first time, an "antisense" cancer agent has been shown to be effective in a human trial. Dr. Burkhard Jansen and colleagues at the University of Vienna said the treatment produced improvements in 6 of 14 patients with stage 4 melanoma, which is virtually untreatable.

Antisense treatments use engineered DNA-like molecules to disrupt the workings of genetic material in disease cells--and sensitize tumors to chemotherapy. In this case, a drug called G3139, made by Genta Inc. of Lexington, Mass., was given along with standard doses of chemotherapy over five days. The results: One 90-year-old woman went into complete remission. Two had remissions of more than 50%. Three had minor but measurable improvements, while four others were stabilized. The median survival rate for the patients in the trial is now nine months, Jansen says, compared with four to six months normally. "These results are very, very encouraging," says Peter Jones, director of the University of Southern California's Comprehensive Cancer Center. "This work should open the door to other treatments based on antisense." Jansen says Genta will begin a larger study within the next few months.

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