Breakthrough drug gives women with aggressive form of breast cancer six months longer to live without condition worsening
11:48 GMT, 9 December 2012
A new breakthrough drug cuts the risk of dying early by one-third for women with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Women on combination treatment of pertuzumab alongside the ‘wonder’ drug Herceptin and chemotherapy lived on average for 18 months without their disease worsening, compared with 12 months for those not taking it.
Doctors are hailing the Herceptin-plus combination, saying it will change treatment in the same way Herceptin did five years ago.
Cancer suffers on a combination treatment of pertuzumab alongside the 'wonder' drug Herceptin and chemotherapy lived on average for six months longer
The new drug should be licensed in the Spring making it available for specialists to prescribe three-weekly infusions.
Around 10,000 of the 48,000 British women diagnosed with breast cancer each year have the HER2 positive form, which is more aggressive.
When the disease starts to spread they are prescribed Herceptin which holds the disease at bay for around a year – six months longer than chemotherapy alone.
But now pertuzumab, also known as Perjeta, can give the same benefit again, according to findings released at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, Texas.
They showed the risk of death over the course of the study was reduced by 34 per cent in patients receiving the Herceptin-plus combination.
They lived on average 18.5 months before the disease worsened, compared with 12.4 months for women on Herceptin and chemotherapy.
Doctors are hailing the Herceptin-plus combination, saying it will change cancer treatment in the same way Herceptin did five years ago
The Cleopatra study of 800 women included Britons whose HER2 positive cancer was spreading.
It was stopped early because the results were so positive in order that women on standard treatment could get the new drug as well.
Dr David Miles, consultant medical oncologist, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, said ‘This drug is keeping women alive longer and they have a good quality of life.
‘It is rare in a career to see two new drugs come along that change the way we treat breast cancer. I’ve seen the disease getting worse in front of me and then women recovering when they have pertuzumab.
‘Over the last decade women with this form of breast cancer are living at least a year longer on average than they would have done and some are having their lives considerably extended.’
The new breakthrough drug cuts the risk of dying early by one-third for women with an aggressive form of breast cancer
About four out of five patients positively respond to the drug, with most of the remaining patients having their disease stabilised with few side effects, he said.
Both pertuzumab and Herceptin are antibody therapies which work by binding to the part of the tumour essential for growth, preventing cell division.
This causes the tumour to stop growing or even shrink.
Manufacturers Roche have applied for a licence to market the drug in Europe which should be granted next Spring.
The cost of the drug has not been finalised but it could cost thousands, sparking the same furore as Herceptin.
Herceptin was the first targeted treatment for breast cancer, designed specifically for women with HER2 positive tumours.
About four out of five patients positively respond to being given pertuzumab
There were high-profile battles by women to win NHS funding for the drug, before the NHS rationing body allowed widespread use in 2006.
The then Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt ordered fast tracking of the approval process for Herceptin which led to it being used up to three years earlier than scheduled for early stages of the disease.
Dr Miles said he expected pertuzumab to become available on the NHS ‘because there is an unarguable survival benefit’.
He hopes the drug after licensing will be approved by different NHS regions in England via the Cancer Drugs Fund, while some women are getting it through ongoing trials.
Fiona Hazell, Director of Communications, Breast Cancer Campaign said, 'We welcome these findings as one of the major advances we’ve seen for women with advanced HER2 positive breast cancer since Herceptin.
‘Being able to significantly extend the lives of more women and stop cancer returning for longer is brilliant news.
‘Perjeta’s side effects are similar to the current mix of Herceptin and chemotherapy drugs so, if successfully managed, women could live for longer and still maintain a good quality of life. This drug is not yet available to patients so we’re hoping it will receive a licence for use in the UK as soon as possible.’
Dr Rachel Greig, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer said ‘This is very promising data and good news for treatment of this type of advanced breast cancer. Although it is not a cure it can help women survive longer and significantly extend the time a patient is able to control the growth of their disease.
‘We hope it can be made available to UK patients as soon as possible.’