Women with terminal breast cancer have renewed hope thanks to a dazzling new drug that keeps the disease in check for more than twice as long as previous treatments.
According to the latest study results, the drug can stop progression for two years, compared to only nine months with previous options.
The drug Enhertu, which was approved by the NHS health chiefs last week, is given every three weeks in the hospital via an intravenous drip and combines two powerful compounds: an antibody that helps the immune system find cancer cells and a battle molecule that works in the cancer invades cells and destroys them.
Professor Peter Schmid of the Barts Cancer Center and a researcher involved in the development of Enhertu said, “This drug shows overwhelming activity in patients who usually get pretty poor results. It works where all other treatments seem to fail because cancer cells adapt over time to hide from the drugs. This not only works, it also works for a long time. ‘
The new treatment can reduce the size of a fatal tumor and stabilize it for up to two years
According to the latest test results, this two-pronged attack leads to a dramatic shrinkage of the tumor in two thirds of the patients, compared with only one third with standard treatment.
“This drug shows an overwhelming activity in patients where the outcome is usually pretty bad,” says Peter Schmid, professor of cancer medicine at Barts Cancer Center and one of the drug’s researchers.
“It is successful when all other treatments fail because cancer cells adapt over time to hide from the drugs. This not only works, it also works for a long time. ‘
Approximately 55,000 Britons are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, mostly women over 50. With treatment, the outlook is positive for most patients. More than three quarters of women survive at least ten years after diagnosis.
But one in five patients has some type of breast cancer that produces excess 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 HER2-positive (written HER2 +) patients, tumors will recur, even if the cancer is initially eradicated – either in the breast or elsewhere in the body.
Medications and other treatments are available for these patients, but the effects are short-lived and many run out of options within a few months. They are now being offered Enhertu, which can be used to further shrink tumors for an average of 16 months.
In studies, some tumors continued to decrease for two years during treatment.
“These patients currently have a very limited prognosis,” says Prof. Schmid. At this point, they rarely survive for more than a year to 15 months. But now, when we have a drug that can control the disease for two years, we can imagine that it will also significantly extend survival. ‘
Side effects are as common as with existing treatments, with complications such as lung infections occurring in around a third of test patients. Experts say that the most common side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, and vomiting, are far less severe than with chemotherapy.
Enhertu is said to have the unique ability to pull the active ingredients, which contain their DNA, directly into the nucleus of the cancer cell in order to destroy them. This also minimizes the drug’s impact on surrounding healthy cells and reduces the severity of side effects. According to Prof. Schmid, the drug could soon be approved for the earlier treatment of HER2 + breast cancer – not just if patients run out of all other options.
Enhertu, which was approved by the NHS health chiefs last week, is given via an intravenous drop every three weeks in the hospital and combines two powerful compounds: an antibody that helps the immune system find cancer cells and a battle molecule that gets into the cancer cells penetrates and this destroys you
One breast cancer patient who is benefiting from this is Alia Brown, a 32-year-old veterinarian from south London who developed secondary tumors in her liver in April 2018. Doctors prescribed the drug Kadcyla and heat energy treatment to destroy the liver tumors. But 16 months later, the cancers started growing again.
“The only option I had was to take a chemotherapy pill, which only gave me six months of stability,” says Alia. “I also knew that if I did take it again, I would not be able to take it again because cancer cells develop immunity.”
She signed up for the Enhertu study last February and admits, “I had nausea, fatigue, and weight loss for about four months. I’m not going to lie – that was hard.
“But my tumors shrank almost immediately. After about three months they stopped shrinking but were stable. Then, four months later, they shrank again. It was wonderful.’
Last week – after 14 months on the drug – the scans showed signs of growth again.
“At this stage, you worry that you have run out of time,” she says. “And this drug gave me a year and two months that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Although it was difficult at first, I missed the terrible chemo symptoms, which are far worse. I am so grateful for the opportunity and it is great that there are now thousands more. ‘