Women with incurable breast cancer have given new hope thanks to a new “mind-blowing” drug that keeps the disease in place for more than twice as long as previous treatments.
The drug can stop progression for two years, compared to just nine months with previous options, according to the most recent trial results.
The drug, Enhertu, which was approved by NHS health chiefs last week, is administered every three weeks in hospital via a drip into a vein, and combines two powerful compounds: an antibody that helps the immune system find cancer cells and a fighting molecule that enters the cancer. Cells and their destruction.
Professor Peter Schmid of the Barts Cancer Center and co-researcher in the development of Enhertu said: ‘This drug shows amazing activity in patients for whom the outcome is very poor. It works where all other treatments seem to fail because, over time, cancer cells adapt to hide from the drugs. Not only does this work, it continues to work for a long time ‘
A new treatment can reduce the size of a lethal tumor, stabilizing it for up to two years
This two-pronged attack causes significant tumor shrinkage in two-thirds of patients who undergo it, compared to one-third of patients who received standard treatment, according to the latest trial results.
“ This drug shows amazing activity in patients for whom the outcome is very poor, ” says Peter Schmid, professor of cancer medicine at the Barts Cancer Center and one of the researchers on the drug.
It works as all other treatments seem to fail because, over time, cancer cells adapt to hide from the drugs. Not only does this work, it continues to work for a long time.
About 55,000 Britons are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, most of them women over the age of 50. Treatment means that the outlook for most patients is positive, with more than three-quarters of women surviving at least ten years after diagnosis.
But one in five patients suffers from a type of breast cancer that results in excessive amounts of a protein involved in cell growth, called HER2. These tumors are three times more likely to spread to other parts of the body than other tumors.
In up to a fifth of patients present in HER2 (written HER2 +), even if the cancer is initially removed, tumors will recur – either in the breast or elsewhere in the body.
There are other drugs and treatments for these patients, but their effects are short-lived and many options run out within a few months. They will now be offered Enhertu, which can keep shrinking tumors for an average of 16 months.
In studies, some tumors kept shrinking in size for two years during treatment.
“The prognosis for these patients is very limited at the present time,” says Professor Schmid. In this stage, they will rarely live longer than 1 to 15 months. But now, if we had a drug that could control the disease for two years, we’d imagine that it would greatly extend survival as well.
Side effects occur at a similar rate to current treatments, with nearly a third of test patients having complications such as lung infections. Experts say the more common side effects, such as nausea, fatigue and vomiting, are much less severe than those seen with chemotherapy.
Enhertu is said to have a unique ability to attract active compounds directly to the nucleus of a cancer cell, which contains its own DNA, to destroy them, and this also reduces the effect of the drug on the surrounding healthy cells, which reduces the severity of side effects. Professor Schmid says the drug could soon be licensed for use early in the treatment of HER2 + breast cancer – not just when patients run out of all other options.
Enhertu, approved by NHS health chiefs last week, is given every three weeks in hospital via a drip into a vein, and combines two powerful compounds: an antibody that helps the immune system find cancer cells and a fighting molecule that enters and destroys cancer cells. With them
Among the breast cancer patients to benefit is Alia Brown, a 32-year-old veterinary nurse from South London, who in April 2018 developed secondary tumors in her liver. Doctors prescribed Kadcyla and heat energy therapy to destroy liver tumors. But after 16 months, the cancers began to grow again.
“The only option I had was to take a chemotherapy pill, which would give me only six months of stability,” Alia says. I also knew that if I took it once, I wouldn’t be able to take it again because the cancer cells developed immunity.
She joined the Enhertu Experience this past February, and she admits: “ I’ve had nausea, fatigue, and weight loss for about four months. I’m not going to lie – that was hard.
But almost immediately my tumors began to shrink. After about three months they stopped shrinking but they stabilized. Then, after four months, they began to shrink again. It was amazing. ‘
Last week – after 14 months of taking the drug – tests showed signs of growth again.
“At this point, you worry about not having much time left,” she says. And this drug gave me a year and two months that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Although it was difficult to start with, I missed the terrible chemotherapy symptoms which are much worse. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity, and it’s great that thousands of others will do so now too.