YOUR HEALTH: VHL, new drug for genetic disease shrinks tumors

(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)(marie constantin)
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 4:23 AM CDT

BOSTON, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Von Hippel-Lindau disease is an inherited condition named after the two European scientists who discovered it. VHL puts people at higher risk of cancerous and benign tumors in multiple organs, including the kidneys, pancreas, spine, and brain. Until last year, surgical removal of the tumors was the only treatment, but now, a newly approved therapy may help people with VHL avoid repeated, dangerous surgeries.

From learning to play “Stairway to Heaven” to planning her wedding, 33-year-old Ashley Colburn doesn’t step away from a challenge even though she’s been completely blind since she was 14.

Ashley has the genetic condition Von Hippel-Lindau disease, or VHL, which caused non-cancerous tumors to form in her retinas. VHL also means a high risk of other tumors. Ashley started showing additional symptoms in 2017.

“I felt ribbons of pain pulsing in the back of my neck when I stood up too fast,” Ashley recalls.

Then, more tumors formed in her brain.

Mass. General Cancer Center medical oncologist, Dr. Othon Iliopoulos, MD says, “If not treated, it’s fatal.”

Brain surgery was followed by recovery and Ashley went on to life as a newlywed. Then, about 18 months ago, a sudden, familiar pounding in the back of her head.

Dr. Iliopoulos was about to schedule Ashley for another brain surgery when doctors learned a new drug designed to shrink VHL tumors was close to approval. ItÕs called belzutifan, also known as Welireg.

“We can treat the patients and save them from having the craniotomy,” Dr. Iliopoulos adds.

In August 2021, Ashley began taking three pills a day. Five weeks after she started, the drug shrunk her brain tumors by more than a third. And for Ashley and her husband Patrick, clearly a life-changer.

Dr. Iliopoulos says of the 19 VHL patients he treated with the drug, all had tumor shrinkage. Ashley says she’ll remain on the drug as long as it continues to keep her tumors from growing.

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