Breast cancer drug trialled in Newcastle can extend life by almost five years

The new drug has been shown to give “unprecedented” results in extending lives by almost five years

Dr Mark Verrill
Dr Mark Verrill

A Breakthrough breast cancer drug trialled in the North East has been shown to give “unprecedented” results in extending the lives of women with an advanced form of the illness.

Perjeta, in combination with herceptin and chemotherapy, has been hailed a major step forward in cancer treatment as it can lengthen survival in women with previously untreated, advanced HER2-positive breast cancer to more than four and a half years.

Impressive new data presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology congress has shown a median overall survival of 56.5 months compared to just 40.8 months for standard of care, herceptin and chemotherapy alone.

Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital was one of the key establishments involved in trials of the drug with women in the region being among the first to pilot the pioneering treatment.

Dr Mark Verrill, consultant medical oncologist at the Freeman Hospital, who led the clinical trial, said: “When you think about the history of HER2-positive breast cancer it used to be that the average survival was three years - with perjeta it is now well over four and a half years.

“It is amazing to be able to sit patients down and tell them that there is this new treatment that is so good it can significantly extend their lives and is very tolerated without any major side effects.

“The results of the study justify everything we have done with the treatment and it makes any struggles worthwhile. It is so satisfying to be part of a process that is literally life-changing for people.

“It is very humbling to see the results of the study and the women who take part in clinical trials must be recognised as they are prepared to take on new medication.”

The results of the study reinforce the efficacy of perjeta as a treatment for previously untreated, advanced HER2-postive breast cancer.

Perjeta works in a different way to any other cancer medicine as it is the first in a new class of targeted treatments, known as HER2 dimerisation inhibitors, which work to block cancer cell growth and survival signals.

Prof David Miles, consultant medical oncologist, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre and UK study lead said: “These results are impressive. They show a magnitude of survival benefit which we have never seen before in advanced breast cancer, let alone this particular type, previously regarded as having a poor prognosis and being difficult to treat.

“The introduction of herceptin made a huge difference for our patients but this strategy of combining herceptin with this second HER2-targeted antibody with complementary mechanisms, means that we are able to control the cancer and prolong survival for even longer.

“The observation that women with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer can live alongside their disease for so many years is frankly unprecedented. These data represent a significant step forward in the fight against breast cancer with combination therapies such as this paving the way for cancer treatments in the future.”

The safety profile of perjeta in this latest data was consistent with that observed previously in the Phase III CLEOPATRA study, including perjeta’s long-term cardiac safety. No new safety signals were observed, and these overall survival results were consistent across patient subgroups.

Perjeta was launched in the UK in March 2013[v] and is currently available to patients in England via the Cancer Drugs Fund. In August 2013, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued draft guidance not recommending Perjeta for routine NHS use in England and Wales.

Manufacturers of the drug, Roche, is currently awaiting a final decision from NICE.

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