ABC News has reported this morning that the results of new a research study, conducted by physicians at Durham, North Carolina’s Duke University, have shown encouraging results. Using what doctors are calling “smart bomb” technology to attack cancer cells, the experimental treatment has extended the lives of women in the stages of advanced breast cancer without the cancer getting worse. The results of the study were announced over the weekend at a cancer conference in Chicago.
Approximately 1000 women with advanced breast cancer were given the experimental drug to deliver a toxic blow to tumor cells while leaving healthy cells alone. After 2 years, 65 percent of the study subjects were still living, while 47 percent of women in a comparison group who were given standard cancer drugs, had passed away. Duke University’s Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, leader of the study, stated, “The absolute difference is greater than one year in how long these people live. This is a major step forward.”
The treatment, called T-DM1, combines the first gene targeted therapy for breast cancer, Herceptin, with a highly toxic chemotherapy drug and links the mix with a chemical that keeps them together until they reach cancer cells. There, the poison is released, killing the cancer. T-DM1 caused fewer side effects than standard cancer drugs. Dr. Blackwell continued, ” People don’t lose their hair, they don’t throw up. They don’t need nausea medicines, they don’t need transfusions.”
Dr. Michael Link, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and a pediatric cancer specialist at Stanford University, said, ” The data are pretty compelling. 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”. The American Society of Clinical Oncology hosted the Chicago conference.
The treatment came very close to meeting the very strict research guidelines which would allow the study to be stopped and the treatment announced as a winner. However, researchers state that so many women on the new treatment are still living that it is too early to determine average survival times for the test groups. Genentech, a division of the Swiss company, Roche, and a sponser of the study, will be looking for approval to to sell the drug in both the United States and Europe later this year. Immunogen, Inc. was responsible for development of the drug combining technology.
The cost of the treatment, not yet approved by the FDA, has not yet been determined. Genentech reports that the cost for herceptin alone is approximately $4000.00 monthly, with additional costs for infusion.