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Brain cancer keeps popping up in the news for the wrong reasons. Last week, it took the life of Gord Downie, lead singer of the Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip. Sen. John McCain, who was diagnosed in July, recently acknowledged his prognosis is “very poor.”

But there are dozens of experimental therapies for glioblastoma in the works — and on Friday, the San Diego biotech company Tocagen (TOCA) reported some hopeful, though very early, news on one novel approach.


Tocagen uses gene therapy to deliver a localized chemotherapy directly to the brain tumor. In a phase 1 clinical trial, just over one-quarter of patients with recurrent brain tumors remained alive three years after treatment. And median survival time was nearly double the historical standard. There are plenty of caveats: There was no control group in this study, for instance, and the patients responding and still alive after three years represent a minority of the patients enrolled.

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