October 20, 2005

ONE OF THOSE DAYS DOCTORS WOULD AS SOON CALL IN SICK:

Wonderdrug is 'cure' for breast cancer, say doctors (Nigel Hawkes, 10/20/05, Times of London)

THE drug Herceptin was yesterday hailed as a potential cure for breast cancer that will revolutionise the way the disease is treated and save up to 1,500 lives a year in Britain and many tens of thousands across the world.

As an editorial in the world’s most authoritative medical journal spoke of the drug’s “stunning” results in trials, the Prime Minister insisted that it had to be made available in Britain more quickly.

A health authority in the West Country has become the first in the NHS to say that it will make the drug available to all suitable women with early breast cancer, even before it is cleared by regulatory authorities. The cost for a year’s treatment is £21,800 per patient.

The publication of trial data on Herceptin in the New England Journal of Medicine was accompanied by an editorial by a top US specialist proclaiming the results as revolutionary.

The most striking finding is that the peak in recurrence of the disease in the first two to three years after surgery has been eliminated in women taking Herceptin, said Dr Gabriel Hortobagyi in the editorial. “This observation suggests a dramatic and perhaps permanent perturbation of the natural history of the disease, maybe even a cure,” he wrote.


Somewhere an enterprising lawyer has already filed the class-action suit over the side effects and uncured.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 20, 2005 8:03 AM
Comments

Stupid question, but why would a drug like this be effective against only one type of cancer? Or could it be used against other types?

Posted by: jdkelly at October 20, 2005 2:46 PM

jdkelly:

Because different cancers arise from different types of cells, and then from changes in various processes (signaling pathways, gene regulatory networks, etc.) that are often specific for each type of cell. I'm not sure what this particular therapy was directed against, but if it is, in fact, limited in its scope to breast cancers, it may have been developed against a target unique to that form of cancer.

On the other hand, there is a procedural aspect to it, as well. Drugs are tested and approved for specific purposes. The treatment may apply to other cancers or even other disorders entirely, but no one has done the requisite studies yet. Doesn't mean doctors can't prescribe it for other purposes, but they also have no empirical basis for doing so.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 20, 2005 4:13 PM

MB, Thank you.

Posted by: jdkelly at October 20, 2005 4:34 PM

"Only a proportion of women with breast cancer benefit from Herceptin, which acts against a protein found in 20-30 per cent of women with particularly aggressive breast tumours."

Perhaps this should have been mentioned before the very last paragraph of the article...But no one claims that science & medical journalism avoids sensationalism, do they?

Posted by: b at October 20, 2005 4:53 PM
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