Drug Extending Life of Breast Cancer Patients by Six Months Is “Unheard-Of”

(p. A16) The patients had metastatic breast cancer that had been progressing despite rounds of harsh chemotherapy. But a treatment with a drug that targeted cancer cells with laserlike precision was stunningly successful, slowing tumor growth and extending life to an extent rarely seen with advanced cancers.

The new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published on Sunday [June 5, 2022] in the New England Journal of Medicine, would change how medicine was practiced, cancer specialists said.

. . .

The clinical trial, sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca and led by Dr. Shanu Modi of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, involved 557 patients with metastatic breast cancer who were HER2-low. Two-thirds took the experimental drug, trastuzumab deruxtecan, sold as Enhertu; the rest underwent standard chemotherapy.

. . .

“It is unheard-of for chemotherapy trials in metastatic breast cancer to improve survival in patients by six months,” said Dr. Moore, who enrolled some patients in the study. Usually, she says, success in a clinical trial is an extra few weeks of life or no survival benefit at all but an improved quality of life.

The results were so impressive that the researchers received a standing ovation when they presented their data at the oncology conference in Chicago on Sunday.

. . .

“This strategy is the real breakthrough,” he said, explaining that it would enable researchers to zoom in on molecular targets on tumor cells that were only sparsely present.

“This is about more than just this drug or even breast cancer,” Dr. Winer said. “Its real advantage is that it enables us to take potent therapies directly to cancer cells.”

For the full story see:

Gina Kolata. “Trial of New Breast Cancer Drug Results in ‘Unheard-Of’ Survival Rates.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 8, 2022): A16.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2022, and has the title “Breast Cancer Drug Trial Results in ‘Unheard-Of’ Survival.” Where there are minor differences in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The academic NEJM article reporting the results summarized in the passages quoted above is:

Modi, Shanu, William Jacot, Toshinari Yamashita, Joohyuk Sohn, Maria Vidal, Eriko Tokunaga, Junji Tsurutani, Naoto T. Ueno, Aleix Prat, Yee Soo Chae, Keun Seok Lee, Naoki Niikura, Yeon Hee Park, Binghe Xu, Xiaojia Wang, Miguel Gil-Gil, Wei Li, Jean-Yves Pierga, Seock-Ah Im, Halle C.F. Moore, Hope S. Rugo, Rinat Yerushalmi, Flora Zagouri, Andrea Gombos, Sung-Bae Kim, Qiang Liu, Ting Luo, Cristina Saura, Peter Schmid, Tao Sun, Dhiraj Gambhire, Lotus Yung, Yibin Wang, Jasmeet Singh, Patrik Vitazka, Gerold Meinhardt, Nadia Harbeck, and David A. Cameron. “Trastuzumab Deruxtecan in Previously Treated Her2-Low Advanced Breast Cancer.” New England Journal of Medicine 387, no. 1 (July 7, 2022): 9-20.

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