For more than two years, former Dallas Maverick basketball player Ray Johnston has been cancer-free. His advanced, highly aggressive acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) was totally eradicated in 2010, just four months after beginning treatment with CytRx Corporation’s (NASDAQ:CYTR) cancer drug candidate tamibarotene. Since then, Mr. Johnston has continued taking tamibarotene tablets every other month to guard against a relapse.
“Every day without leukemia is a celebration,” said Mr. Johnston, who leads a very active lifestyle with the band he formed following his diagnosis. The Ray Johnston Band is booking about 100 shows across the U.S. this year with a sound described by Johnston as halfway between Zac Brown and Dave Matthews.
Tamibarotene was developed to be more potent and avoid some of the toxic side effects of all trans-retinoic acid (ATRA)—the current first-line treatment for APL. CytRx is currently testing tamibarotene as a third-line treatment for this form of leukemia.
CytRx also is evaluating tamibarotene in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents in a late-stage, global Phase 2b clinical trial as a first-line treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Positive signs of efficacy in patients with APL such as Ray Johnson further bolster the case for tamibarotene’s drug activity, providing hope for its success in patients with lung cancer, which is responsible for more deaths than breast, prostate and ovarian cancers combined. Last month an independent group of oncologists and biostatistitions who comprise the Data Safety Monitoring Board for this global trial recommended moving forward with clinical testing following an interim review of safety data. The Company expects to report trial results next year.
Mr. Johnston was diagnosed with APL at the age of 24, ending his brief career as a professional basketball player with the Dallas Mavericks. For the following six years, he was treated with multiple therapies for APL approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including ATRA, as well as anthracycline chemotherapy, Mylotarg® and arsenic trioxide (ATO). He even underwent a blood stem cell transplant. Although his leukemia went into remission several times, it always came back with a vengeance. In fact, a PET scan performed just prior to his treatment with tamibarotene showed more than 30 tumors throughout his body.