CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — For many cancer patients, destroying tumors is only the first step in their battle with the disease. The rate of cancer recurrence varies greatly depending on the type of cancer a patient has, with some having a very low risk of returning after treatment and others almost guaranteed to come back – like brain cancer. For breast cancer patients, around one in three will face the disease again in their lifetime. However, scientists say a new drug may keep hard-to-beat breast cancers from returning — providing hope of a future cure.
Lynparza, a pill from drug maker AstraZeneca, has been found to extend the lifespans of breast cancer patients who carry certain gene mutations. These mutations, in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, make it much more likely a person will develop breast cancer.
In the new study, patients received the drug after undergoing standard cancer treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy. Most of the volunteers had tumors which were not fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone. They also did not have a certain gene which the cancer drug Herceptin can target. This unfortunate combination leads to a condition called “triple negative” breast cancer, which is especially difficult to treat.
AstraZeneca offers ‘hope for a cure’
Researchers, supported by AstraZeneca and the National Cancer Institute, tested Lynparza in 1,836 women and men with early-stage cancers. Each participant received either a placebo or the pill for one year after their cancer treatments. More than four in five patients in the experiment had triple-negative breast cancer.
Results show 86 percent of the patients taking Lynparza were still alive with no cancer recurrence after three years, in comparison to 77 percent of the placebo group. Overall, study authors find Lynparza reduced the risk of cancer recurrence by 42 percent.
“This is the first time that any medicine targeting a BRCA mutation has demonstrated the potential to change the course of early-stage breast cancer and offer hope for a cure,” says Dave Fredrickson, Executive Vice President of AstraZeneca’s Oncology Business Unit, in a media release.
“Results of the OlympiA trial represent a potential step forward for patients with high-risk early breast cancer. These new data support the importance of testing at diagnosis for BRCA1/2 mutations, which are actionable biomarkers that can help identify patients with early breast cancer who may be eligible for adjuvant treatment with Lynparza,” adds Roy Baynes, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Clinical Development at MSD Research Laboratories.
Lynparza is already available in the United States. Doctors typical prescribe the drug for breast cancers which have spread throughout the body and for treating cancers in the ovaries, prostate, and pancreas.
The findings appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.