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Breast cancer drug that targets unhealthy cells shows promise

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:17AM

An eagerly awaited study presented Sunday in Chicago found that a new type of drug successfully delayed progression in certain breast cancer patients and had fewer side effects.

The Phase III study of the T-DMI, sponsored by Roche’s Genentech, was released at the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The findings don’t just offer promise for HER2-positive breast cancer patients, which affects 1 in 5 women. T-DM1 also offers a new way of attacking cancer cells. The antibody drug delivers toxin to the cancer cells but not the healthy ones, which is considered a Holy Grail.

“This is a major step forward,” researcher Dr. Kimberly Blackwell of Duke University told the Associated Press.

Researchers found that breast cancer patients who took T-DM1 had a slower progression of the disease by an average three months. Median progression-free survival was 9.6 months for the T-DM1, compared to 6.4 months for patients who received traditional therapy for breast cancer patients — Tykerb’s lapatinib and Xeloda’s capecitabine.

The study, involving 991 women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer, could not determine whether the T-DM1 ultimately prolonged life because not enough time has passed since the trial started, but that’s what’s researchers are expecting. The overall survival rates are expected next year.

Meanwhile, serious side affects were found to be less common with T-DM1 at 41 percent versus 57 percent with traditional therapy.

Genentech expects to submit T-DM1 for approval to treat HER2-positive breast cancer later this year.

A separate Phase II trial, also presented at ASCO, suggests there might one day be a similar drug avenue for patients with multiple myeloma — that is, as effective, if not more effective, to fight the cancer while minimizing side effects.

The study of 27 patients found that the four-drug — which contains three drugs already used and Onyx Pharmaceutical’s carfilzomib — had a relatively low rate of nerves of the body, one of the most common side effects for multiple myeloma. Yet the four-drug, known as Cyclone, appears to be “as good, if not better” than the drugs used now to reduce tumors, said lead author Dr. Joseph Mikhael, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. A more detailed Phase III trial is being done now.

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