Extra! Extra! Read all about it! A new cancer treatment that links chemotherapy with an agent that zeroes in on specific breast-cancer cells performed significantly better than the current standard drug regimen at keeping advanced breast cancer from progressing!
The research was conducted and reported by Kimberly Blackwell at Duke Cancer Institute, where a phase III clinical trial was recently completed. This investigative drug that’s getting all the publicity is called trastuzumab emtansine (also called trastuzumab-DM1, or trastuzumab-MCC-DM1), and is abbreviated T-DM1. (And yes, a drug called just trastuzumab has been in use for more than a decade and it too has changed the stats of breast cancer mortality for the better.) So consider T-DM1 a new and improved agent that combines features of trastuzumab with other compounds.
More Good News
The side effects of T-DM1 are less than the usual standard treatments. In addition, as is the case for the plain-vanilla version of trastuzumab, this treatment is designed for women who have HER2-positive breast cancers, which are also cancers known to be more aggressive than average and have a higher incidence of recurrence.
T-DM1 represents 1 of the first in a new class of cancer-fighting agents called “antibody drug conjugates.” (Hey, that term might be on the "Jeopardy" show now!) By linking the antibody trastuzumab directly with chemo, the conjugate works like a kind of smart bomb, zeroing in on the HER2 targets within the tumor cells themselves and delivering the added power of chemotherapy.
So is it a magic bullet?
Not quite. The research has focused thus far on giving it to patients with metastatic disease. The comparison results, however, show that the patients on T-DM1 had no cancer growth for an average of 9.6 months, compared to people receiving the current standard drug regimen (capecitabline and lapatinib) for a median time of 6.4 months. And after 2 years, 65.4 percent of the T-DM1 patients were alive, compared to 47.5 percent of those who received standard treatment.
It's great to see some research focusing on the needs of those with metastatic cancer, too. Though not a cure, T-DM1 provides women more options and more longevity with less side effects, thus hopefully preserving quality of life a bit better than that was possible in the past.
Watch for more research taking place with T-DM1, as well as other sister drugs being developed to expand this new drug category that I hope benefits many going forward.