- Attacking cancer at its genetic roots
has been a goal of science for two decades. Researchers say they now have
the first evidence that they can actually do it, pointing to success in
an entirely new approach to fighting cancer.
- The maker of Herceptin, Genentech Inc.,
hopes that it will be approved and put on the market by next fall. It could
quickly become a standard treatment for the one-quarter or more of breast
cancer patients whose tumors are driven by multiple copies of a gene called
- HER-2 produces a protein on the surface
of breast cells that serves as a receiving point for growth-stimulating
hormones. These hormones cause the cells to reproduce out of control and
spread through the body.
- Scientists reasoned they might reduce
HER-2's impact by somehow blocking the extra hormone docking points created
by the gene. At Genentech, scientists cloned antibodies designed to do
this. One turned out to be Herceptin, the first treatment designed from
start to finish to attack a specific genetic error unique to cancer cells.
- Results of the first large studies of
Herceptin were presented Sunday at the society's annual scientific meeting,
attended by about 18,000 cancer specialists.
- Doctors tested it on women with invariably
fatal advanced breast cancer that had spread to other parts of their bodies.
When added to standard treatment, they found it lengthened lives an average
of three months. While this may seem modest, researchers said it represents
a major impact in such a late stage of the disease.
- Researchers predict the results could
be much more impressive when the drug is given before it has moved beyond
the breast and lymph nodes.
- In other cancer news, the researcher
who discovered two drugs that have eliminated tumors in mice said he has
received federal permission to treat about 30 terminally ill patients who
have not responded to other drugs.
- The first, very limited tests of the
drugs on humans could come by the end of this year or early next, Dr. Judah
Folkman told the Chicago Tribune in a story for Sunday editions.
- The drugs, angiostatin and endostatin,
are highly experimental and have been tried only in mice, where they have
caused cancerous tumors to permanently disappear.