Breakthrough Drug A ‘Smart Bomb’ Against Breast Cancer

By Amir Khan on June 4, 2012 11:26 AM EDT

Breast Cancer
A new breast cancer drug extends the life of people with an aggressive form of breast cancer by over a year (Photo: Creative Commons)

An advancement in breast cancer treatment helps destroy the tumors without many of the side effects that typically comes with treatment. The new drug is still in clinical trials, but boosts the survival rate of breast cancer better than standard treatment, according to new research presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

"The absolute difference is greater than one year in how long these people live," Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, study author and professor of medicine and an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Duke Cancer Institute, told the Associated Press. "This is a major step forward."

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The drug, called trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1), is used to treat a specific type of breast cancer known as HER2-positive, a very aggressive and deadly form of cancer. The drug extended patient's lives and caused fewer side effects, leading researchers to call it a "breakthrough" in cancer treatment.

"The drug worked. It was significantly better than a very effective approved therapy for HER2-overexpressing metastatic breast cancer," Blackwell, said, according to HealthDay. "As a clinician who takes care of a lot of breast cancer patients, I'm pleased that this drug has very little dose-limiting toxicity. Patients don't lose their hair from this drug. For patients facing metastatic breast cancer, this is a breakthrough."

 The clinical trial involved over 1,000 women with late-stage breast cancer. After two years, 65 percent of the women taking T-DM1 were still alive compared to only 47 percent in a comparison group receiving standard treatment.

"What we saw was that close to 18 more out of 100 women were alive after two years because they got the new drug compared to older form of treatment," Blackwell told ABC News.

The drug combines a gene-targeted therapy for breast cancer called Herceptin with chemotherapry so toxic it cannot be given on its own. The two drugs are mixed with another chemical to keep the two linked until the reach a cancer cell, where the poison is released to destroy it, researchers said.

"The data are pretty compelling," Dr. Michael Link, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told the Associated Press. "It's sort of a smart bomb kind of therapy, a poison delivered to the tumor ... and not a lot of other collateral damage to other organs."

Researchers hope to have the drug widely available in a year, and said the effectiveness of it is unparalleled.

"It has been shown to be effective when other standard treatments have stopped working, and it has great promise as a drug to be used earlier in the course of the disease," Dr. Eric Winer, director of the breast oncology center at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, told ABC News. "I have been using the drug on clinical trials for six years, and we have patients who have been on it for two years, three years."

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