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Br J Cancer. 1998 Apr;77(7):1155-63.

Phase II trial of dexverapamil and epirubicin in patients with non-responsive metastatic breast cancer.

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Department C of Internal Medicine, Kantonsspital St Gallen, Switzerland.


Agents capable of reversing P-glycoprotein-associated multidrug resistance have usually failed to enhance chemotherapy activity in patients with solid tumours. Based on its toxicity profile and experimental potency, dexverapamil, the R-enantiomer of verapamil, is considered to be promising for clinical use as a chemosensitizer. The purpose of this early phase II trial was to evaluate the effects of dexverapamil on epirubicin toxicity, activity and pharmacokinetics in patients with metastatic breast cancer. A two-stage design was applied. Patients first received epirubicin alone at 120 mg m(-2) i.v. over 15 min, repeated every 21 days. Patients with refractory disease continued to receive epirubicin at the same dose and schedule but supplemented with oral dexverapamil 300 mg every 6 h x 13 doses. The Gehan design was applied to the dexverapamil/epirubicin cohort of patients. Thirty-nine patients were entered on study, 25 proceeded to receive epirubicin plus dexverapamil. Dexverapamil did not increase epirubicin toxicity. The dose intensity of epirubicin was similar when used alone or with dexverapamil. In nine intrapatient comparisons, the area under the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC) of epirubicin was significantly reduced by dexverapamil (mean 2968 vs 1901 microg ml[-1] h[-1], P= 0.02). The mean trough plasma levels of dexverapamil and its major metabolite nor-dexverapamil were 1.2 and 1.5 microM respectively. The addition of dexverapamil to epirubicin induced partial responses in 4 of 23 patients evaluable for tumour response (17%, CI 5-39%, s.e.P 0.079). The remissions lasted 3, 8, 11 and 11+ months. These data suggest that the concept of enhancing chemotherapy activity by adding chemosensitizers may function not only in haematological malignancies but also in selected solid tumours. An increase in the AUC and toxicity of cytotoxic agents does not seem to be a prerequisite for chemosensitizers to enhance anti-tumour activity.

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