||Medical oncologist and prostate
cancer survivor, Dr Charles "Snuffy" Myers
was a key player in creating AZT, Suranim, and Phenylacetate
while working at the National Institute of Health. With over
250 research papers published, Myers is one of the leading
developers of today's prostate cancer canon on both the research
and treatment side of the test tube. Former Cancer Director
at the University of Virginia, Myers opened the American Institute
for Diseases of the Prostate in 2002 to provide men with the
kind of comprehensive care that saved his own life.
Myers was graduated near the top of his class from the University
School of Medicine in 1969. While at Penn, he worked in the
laboratory of Peter Nowell, the scientist who discovered the
genetic basis (the Philadelphia Chromosome) for one of the
common forms of leukemia. He also completed his internship
and part of a residency in internal medicine at the Hospital
of the University of Pennsylvania between 1969 and 1971.
In 1971 he began training in medical oncology at the National
Cancer Institute with Vincent DeVita. This was an exciting
time to join NCI because DeVita had just demonstrated that
widespread metastatic Hodgkin's disease could be cured by aggressive
use of chemotherapy. During the three years Myers trained there,
DaVita demonstrated that chemotherapy cures other types of
lymphoma. Additionally, modern chemotherapy was developed for
ovarian and breast cancer at NIH during that time. At the end
of his fellowship, the first board certification examinations
in Medical Oncology were given, signaling the birth of this
Dr. Myers decided to focus his research on the process of cancer
drug discovery and development. He was particularly interested
in using a process called Clinical Pharmacology to devise ways
to make cancer drugs safer and more effective. In 1974, Myers
joined the staff of the newly formed Clinical Pharmacology
Branch at NCI. By 1984, he had become Chief of the Clinical
Pharmacology Branch and remained in that position for ten years.
During his years in the Clinical Pharmacology Branch, Dr. Myers
made a number of contributions to cancer research.
In the late 1970s, Myers became increasingly interested in
ovarian cancer. This particular cancer is unusual in that it
often remains confined to the peritoneal cavity, rather than
spreading to other parts of the body. This had led a number
of investigators to administer cancer drugs directly into the
peritoneal cavity in an attempt to attain the highest drug
concentrations. Despite the superficial appeal of this approach,
the results were not impressive. Myers addressed this issue
in a series of 14 papers. He established the science and technology
needed for effectively administering cancer drugs to the peritoneal
cavity. This work provided the basis for this area of research
and spawned an entire field of clinical investigation.
The cancer drug Doxorubicin is widely used in the treatment
of breast and other cancers. Unfortunately, it causes irreversible
heart damage that often proves fatal. Myers demonstrated that
this toxicity resulted from oxidative damage to the heart muscle.
In short, Doxorubicin damages the heart because it binds to
iron. The resulting drug-iron complex converts hydrogen peroxide
into chemicals that destroy the heart muscle.
His work led to the discovery of an antidote, Desreoxain that
is now FDA- approved for the prevention of Doxorubicin-induced
In the early 1980s, a new fatal disease emerged that was characterized
by a complete failure of the immune system. It quickly became
evident that many of the patients with this disease were homosexual
men and that the disease appeared to be spread by sexual contact
or blood transfusions. The cause proved to be a new group of
viruses called Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Sam Broder,
a close friend and skilled immunologist, decided to mount an
effort to discover drugs that kill or arrest the spread of
the virus. He recruited Myers as the lead pharmacologist. In
quick succession, the team identified two drugs that slow or
arrest the growth of HIV – suramin and AZT. Of these two,
only AZT eventually proved of sufficient value to warrant FDA
approval as treatment for HIV infection.
During the HIV clinical trials, Dr. Myers became well acquainted
with suramin and its interesting properties as an anticancer
agent. This interest focused on a process called cell cycle
All cells are able to grow or remain stagnant, depending on
the needs of the body. For example, if you remove half of someone's
liver, the remaining liver tissue will rapidly grow until the
liver reaches the correct size and then stop. Thus, a key characteristic
of normal tissues is strict control of cell growth. Cancer
cells differ because their growth is not controlled: once cancer
cells start growing, they stop only when they die or the patient
In the early 1980s, it became apparent that growth of normal
tissues was controlled by the production of small proteins
called growth factors. Some cancers occur because a growth
factor is produced erratically. This was initially demonstrated
in a study that revealed that the simian sarcoma virus caused
sarcomas, a cancer of scar tissue, by triggering over production
of a growth factor called platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF).
Suramin was shown to block PDGF and cause simian sarcoma virus
infected cells to return to normal behavior.
Dr. Myers was aware that suramin also blocked another growth
factor, fibroblast growth factor or FGF. When it was reported
that FGF overproduction was characteristic of prostate cancer,
Myers decided to investigate whether suramin was active against
The first patient was a young policeman from New Orleans who
had failed hormonal therapy under the care of Dr. Labrie, the
discoverer of flutamide (Eulexin). When Myers first saw this
gentleman, his prostate cancer had spread to many of the lymph
nodes throughout his body. Amazingly, during the first course
of suramin, most of his prostate cancer disappeared!
Myers went on to document that about one third of men with
hormone-resistant prostate cancer respond to suramin. Suramin
is now in the latter stages of drug development and may soon
receive FDA-approval as treatment for prostate cancer.
Encouraged by the results obtained with suramin, Myers initiated
a discovery program for drugs effective against prostate cancer.
This group, formed at NCI, continues to discover a number of
additional drugs with promise in the treatment of prostate
and other cancers. These drugs include phenylacetate, phenylbutyrate
In 1994, Myers accepted a position as Director of the Cancer
Center at the University of Virginia. At that time, the Cancer
Center was a Basic Science Center. In the five years after
his arrival, the Center doubled its funding from NCI and is
now an approved Clinical Center. During this same time, UVA
became one of the leading centers for prostate cancer research.
Myers major activities revolved around prostate cancer treatment
and research. His laboratory research was focused on why a
diet high in animal fat appears to foster progression in prostate
cancer. His research group demonstrated that a fatty acid,
arachidonic acid, common in meat, dairy products, and egg yolks
promotes the survival and growth of human prostate cancer cells.
They showed that arachidonic acid is converted to a hormone,
5-HETE, which appears to foster the spread of prostate cancer.
Dr. Myers has long been popular among prostate cancer patients
as a speaker because of his ability to explain science and
medicine in easy-to-understand language. For some years his
other responsibilities limited the number of speaking engagements
he could accept. In an attempt to address this problem, Myers
and his wife, Rose, started a newsletter called Prostate Forum
in the summer of 1996.
Dr. Myers left the University of Virginia on Feb. 15, 2002
to establish the American Institute for Diseases of the Prostate
in Charlottesville, VA. The Institute focuses on providing
comprehensive management of prostate cancer. Dr. Myers tailors
treatment according to the needs of each patient, based on
his knowledge of the disease and his own experience as a patient.
He began to see patients on Feb. 18, 2002.
To make an appointment, or request more information, contact
AIDP at 434-964-0212.