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New drugs treatment offers cancer hope


Sharon Burrell (right) with Naomi Elster of the Irish Cancer Society at the launch of the Paint It Pink Campaign

Sharon Burrell (right) with Naomi Elster of the Irish Cancer Society at the launch of the Paint It Pink Campaign

Sharon Burrell (right) with Naomi Elster of the Irish Cancer Society at the launch of the Paint It Pink Campaign

Women with an aggressive form of breast cancer that is resistant to standard treatments are being offered fresh hope thanks to a new drugs cocktail.

New research, funded by the Irish Cancer Society, is testing a new type of drug, copanlisib, which is being trialled on women who have HER2-positive breast cancer, which tends to spread more quickly than other types.

Research scholar Naomi Elster said the drug, when used in combination with regular therapies, acts as a "signal blocker" in cancer cells which may halt the spread of the disease.

Some 30 women will be involved in the initial trial and around 200 patients could potentially benefit from the breakthrough at any one time.

"The research, for the first time, shows this combination of drugs offers greater hope of halting the growth and spread of breast cancer cells, compared to each of the drugs alone.

"The combination of drugs has also proven to be effective in breast cancer cells which have become resistant to certain treatments," said Ms Elster.

She added: "The fact this drug is now going to clinical trial has the potential to really make a difference where needed and is aimed at patients who have fewer treatment options than others."

The trial is being led by Beaumont Hospital oncologist Prof Bryan Hennessy, who said the new drug cocktail could prevent resistance to the Herceptin treatment, increasing the success rate in treating 25pc of breast cancers. This is a massive step forward and will help save many more lives," he says.

Bayer, the company which makes copanlisib, is funding the clinical trial.

The study also involves investigating changes in the DNA of the tumours of some cancer patients. Better understanding of how cancer works means researchers are more likely to find new treatments for individual patients, according to the Irish Cancer Society's head of research Dr Robert O' Connor.

The charity announced the new trial as it launched its breast cancer campaign, Paint it Pink .

The campaign calls on people to get together to hold a Paint it Pink fundraising event in October to help pay for the research.

Breast cancer survivor Sharon Burrell, from Dalkey in Dublin, was diagnosed in 2003 when she was in her mid-thirties. She is delighted to see women are now more aware of the disease, leading to earlier detection.


Sharon, who works as a library assistant, had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy as part of her treatment.

"I had noticed a dimpling in my breast, rather than a lump. I had known somebody who had been diagnosed with a dimpling.

"I went to my GP and she had me in St Vincent's Hospital a week later waiting for a diagnosis."

"My treatment took a year. The chemotherapy was particularly tough and very debilitating," she says.

"Now there are much more individualised treatments for patients but back then it was a one-size-fits-all approach."

Sharon is now a trained peer supporter with the Irish Cancer Society and supports other women who are fighting the disease. "It's wonderful to see the new treatments which are coming on stream. Every year I hear great news from survivors. A cure is definitely getting closer and closer.

"I would definitely recommend that women take part in trials if they are offered. The news is getting out there that there are so many survivors now and I am so heartened by that," said Sharon.

Irish Independent