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Herceptin combination treatment hailed

A new targeted breast cancer drug can increase the survival time of some hard-to-treat patients by almost six months, research has shown.

T-DM1 combines the antibody drug Herceptin with a powerful chemotherapy agent.

The treatment, which is only suitable for breast cancer patients with a defective Her2 gene, is designed to penetrate cancer cells and destroy them from within.

Because its action is so precise, a normally toxic form of chemotherapy can be used with few side effects.

In a new late-stage trial, the drug was given to patients who had previously ceased to respond to conventional treatment with Herceptin and chemotherapy.

Treated women lived nearly six months longer than those on a combination of two other drugs for advanced cases of Her2-positive breast cancer.

Roche, which makes T-DM1, hopes to obtain a licence to market the drug in the UK late next year.

Conclusions from the Emilia study, an international Phase III trial involving 991 women, were presented today at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting in Vienna.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Paul Ellis, from King’s College London, said: “These results are truly outstanding and will positively alter the outlook and outcomes for patients with Her2-positive breast cancer.

“For T-DM1 to offer such a significant survival benefit, while also improving the quality of life for patients’ lives by reducing the side effects of chemotherapy, is a remarkable achievement.”

Carolyn Rogers, senior clinical nurse specialist at the charity Breast Cancer Care, said: “These results highlight the potential gains that can be achieved from developing new ways to treat Her2-positive advanced breast cancer.

“The trial evaluates a new way of combining chemotherapy and targeted therapy in one agent which could help delay the progression of secondary breast cancer as well as reduce the likelihood of some of the very unpleasant side effects that are associated with chemotherapy. Importantly, it could mean improvements in quality of life and overall survival.

“The findings are encouraging as currently there are limited treatment options for people living with this type of breast cancer, particularly if Herceptin is no longer effective for them.”

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