A drug already available on the NHS dramatically extends the lives of patients with incurable bowel cancer, a trial has revealed. Scientists found panitumumab gave some patients an extra three years – the longest survival time ever reported for this group.
More than 270,000 people in the UK have bowel cancer and about 16,500 die from it every year. If the disease is spotted early, it can usually be treated with surgery and chemotherapy, but if it spreads to other organs it becomes nearly impossible to cure.
Deborah James, pictured at Royal Ascot, has been taking a drug which trials have shown that can extend the lives of bowel cancer patients by up to three years
More than 270,000 people in the UK have bowel cancer and about 16,500 die from it every year
Since 2017, panitumumab has been offered in combination with chemotherapy to Britons with a form of bowel cancer called RAS wild-type, which affects roughly 55 per cent of patients
Since 2017, panitumumab has been offered in combination with chemotherapy to Britons with a form of bowel cancer called RAS wild-type, which affects roughly 55 per cent of patients.
The drug works by targeting a specific protein on the tumour, preventing it from spreading.
In 2019, broadcaster and journalist Dame Deborah James revealed that she was taking panitumumab, and credited it, along with several other drugs, with keeping her alive.
New data, presented this month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s conference in Chicago, provides the most striking picture yet of the drug’s strength. It found patients with an RAS wild-type tumour on the left side of their bowel lived on average for 38 months while taking panitumumab and chemotherapy. They had an 18 per cent lower risk of death than patients who took another cancer drug called bevacizumab alongside chemotherapy.
Bevacizumab – also known as Avastin – is not widely available on the NHS and campaigners have long called on health chiefs to offer it to patients with incurable cancer. But the trial found, for this particular group of patients, panitumumab outperforms bevacizumab, which on average extended lives by only 34 months.
The study showed the drug was more effective than bevacizumab in patients whose cancer was on the left side of their bowel
The study showed the drug was more effective than bevacizumab in patients whose cancer was on the left side of their bowel. Researchers also found patients with tumours on the right side lived just as long on panitumumab as those given bevacizumab.
Tumours on the right side of the bowel are less common and tend to be more aggressive.
Dr Hendrik-Tobias Arkenau, medical director of the Sarah Cannon Research Institute UK, said: ‘This is reassuring news for patients who know now that, if they get panitumumab, it can keep their cancer at bay for longer than any other drug.’