Today a new life-extending breast cancer drug will be available for women who have stopped responding to treatment.
The pioneering drug Kadcyla - also called T-DM1 - was trialled at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital as is given to patients who have failed on conventional treatment with Herceptin and chemotherapy.
It is only suitable for women with the defective HER2 gene and trial results have shown it can extend life by six months compared with treatment with two other drugs.
Dr Mark Verrill, consultant medical oncologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, led the regional clinical trial at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.
He said: “The drug is a magic bullet and it is what we have wanted for years and years.
“It is very striking how it increases the activity of treatment while reducing side effects. In 20 years of treating cancer it is one of the most exciting drugs that we have had. It is amazingly effective and it’s a very important breakthrough.
“The treatment extends lives and improves quality of life, which is of huge benefit to patients.”
Kadcyla is designed to penetrate cancer cells and destroy them from within and, because its action is so precise, a normally toxic form of chemotherapy can be used.
Clinical trial results have shown that women on Kadcyla survived 30.9 months compared with 25.1 months for patients treated with lapatinib and capecitabine.
They also suffered fewer side-effects such as diarrhoea and vomiting. Kadcyla is administered intravenously once every three weeks.
The drug has not been appraised for use on the NHS by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
Doctors can apply for treatment for suitable patients through the NHS cancer drugs fund and it is available privately. Mother-of-one Catherine Dafter, of Felling, Gateshead, was one of the women who took part in the region’s clinical trial.
The 48-year-old was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer 14 years ago and underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Herceptin before trying Kadcyla.
She said: “The drug has been marvellous and anybody who is offered it should take it. If it was not for Kadcyla I would not be here today.”
It is hoped that in the future Kadcyla may be able to be used earlier in breast cancer treatment to “revolutionise treatment in the future”.
In the coming months at new clinical trial will be undertaken at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care to assess the use of the treatment post-surgery.