Thousands of women with a type of advanced breast cancer could benefit from a drug described as the biggest step-change in treatment of the disease since Herceptin was introduced in 1999.
Perjeta has been shown to cut the chance of dying within three years of starting treatment by a third.
It works in combination with Herceptin, for the fifth of patients who are suitable for the established drug. These are women whose cancer cells have particularly high levels of a protein called HER2.
Dr David Miles, a consultant oncologist at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre near Watford, said: “Perjeta has been shown to extend survival and control cancer for longer than the current standard of care – showing a magnitude of benefit that has not been seen since the launch of Herceptin more than ten years ago.
“This marks a significant step forward in the treatment of this aggressive, difficult-to-treat disease.”
Roche, which makes Perjeta, has just been given permission to market the drug across Europe by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). It costs £31,135 (€36,000) for a year’s supply.
It received the EMA’s approval after a trial found that using it with Herceptin and chemotherapy, cut the chance of dying within three years by 34 per cent, compared to using Herceptin and chemotherapy alone.
The Cleopatra study also found it extended the average time that tumours were stalled, from 12.4 to 18.5 months.
Perjeta works by blocking a method by which tumour cells get around the ‘blocking’ effect of Herceptin.
While Herceptin blocks the ‘survive and multiply’ signals that HER2 receptors send out, often the receptors get around that by sending out even more powerful signals by pairing with related receptors in this family of proteins. The process is known as dimerisation. Perjeta blocks this pairing process.
Despite its benefits the drug, like other cancer medicines, has unpleasant side effects. For instance, when used with Herceptin and chemotherapy, two-thirds suffered from diarrhoea.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign said it “should be made available to all women who will benefit from it as soon as possible”.
She said: “Perjeta has the potential to bring a significant, and precious, extension of life to around 2,000 women with advanced breast cancer each year, by preventing the cancer from progressing for longer than we’ve seen with other treatment combinations.”
Dr Emma Pennery, clinical director of the charity Breast Cancer Care said: “This drug, when combined with Herceptin and chemotherapy can provide a more effective, targeted treatment option to delay progression of this aggressive disease than Herceptin and chemotherapy alone, but with comparable side effects.
Stephen Adams Telegraph.co.uk