Women with advanced breast cancer have been thrown a lifeline by a breakthrough treatment that could help them stay healthy for longer.
The medicine, Trodelvy, has been dubbed a Trojan horse as it can penetrate tumours, delivering powerful chemotherapy agents that attack cancer cells from the inside.
The highly accurate procedure avoids harming healthy tissue, meaning doctors can give higher doses without worsening side effects.
Trodelvy has already proved effective in patients with triple-negative breast cancer, a notoriously hard to treat form of the disease which accounts for 15 per cent of cases. In these women, the drug can double survival rates.
The results of a landmark trial, announced yesterday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual conference in Chicago, show Trodelvy is highly effective in women with one of the most common types, known as HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer, which accounts for seven in ten diagnoses.
This means thousands more women could soon benefit from the drug, which is delivered fortnightly by intravenous drip.
One patient to benefit from Trodelvy is Karen Corrigan (above), 42, from Nottingham, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in January 2018 after she found a lump in her left breast
It’s a fact
More than 150 breast cancer diagnoses are made every day in the UK alone – that’s one every ten minutes.
Patients in the study were at an advanced stage of illness and had not responded to treatment. Those given Trodelvy saw a 34 per cent fall in the chances of death or worsening disease within a year, compared with patients on traditional chemotherapy.
Dr Jane Lowe Meisel, a cancer specialist at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, hailed the breakthrough. She said: ‘There is a serious unmet need for these patients, who have been through chemotherapy already and have no options left.
‘If one of these patients walks into a clinic, with this drug you’ll essentially be able to offer them a one-in-five chance of not progressing in a year. That is huge.’
The findings have renewed hope that NHS spending body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), will also give Trodelvy the green light.
There was disappointment in April when the watchdog rejected the drug, also known as sacituzumab govitecan, as too expensive.
But The Mail on Sunday has learned NICE will meet on Tuesday to restart negotiations with US manufacturer Gilead over the £200,000-a-year per patient price tag.
Trodelvy has already proved effective in patients with triple-negative breast cancer, a notoriously hard to treat form of the disease which accounts for 15 per cent of cases. In these women, the drug can double survival rates. (Posed by models)
Trodelvy is one of a new breed of cancer drugs known as antibody-drug conjugates. These use artificial antibodies – similar to those naturally produced by the immune system – and are designed to hunt down a protein found in cancer cells. They carry a payload of chemotherapy medicine which, when they find their target, they deliver directly into the tumour.
Blood test ends gruelling cycles of colon chemotherapy
Colon cancer patients could soon be spared debilitating rounds of chemotherapy thanks to a revolutionary blood test.
At present, nearly half of NHS patients who have their colon surgically removed because of tumours are also given chemo to stop the disease returning.
Yet it’s reckoned only one in five are at risk of recurrence, meaning that many are given the powerful drugs unnecessarily.
Currently, doctors decide which patients should receive chemotherapy by examining colon tumours after they’ve been removed during surgery. This method, however, is far from reliable.
The new test seeks to remedy the problem by looking for fragments of cancerous genetic material circulating in the blood.
Trial results presented yesterday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago showed the test was so accurate that it could halve the number of patients who are given chemo.
Experts predict the findings will change the way colon cancer is treated globally.
‘The chemotherapy drugs which these patients have to take after surgery are particularly gruelling,’ says Dr Hendrik-Tobias Arkenau, medical director of Sarah Cannon Research Institute UK.
‘Often they trigger severe neuropathy nerve damage which makes simple activities like picking up a glass of water excruciatingly painful. I’d like to see this new test adopted widely.’
Professor Nick Turner, a breast cancer expert at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: ‘It’s not a cure but it can extend their lives, buying patients more time with their family and friends.’
Experts believe these early findings show that Trodelvy could buy women valuable months.
‘Given the significant difference this drug makes to the speed of the cancer’s progression, it stands to reason that it will also extend patients’ lives, though we need to wait to see more data to say that for certain,’ said Prof Turner.
The news comes as another antibody-drug conjugate, Enhertu, or trastuzumab deruxtecan, is expected to show promising results for breast cancer patients.
Previous studies have shown it is highly effective, reducing the risk of death by more than two-thirds in some patients. As with Trodelvy, new trial data for Enhertu will show wider benefits.
‘We’re seeing lots of antibody-drug conjugates coming through for breast cancer now and it’s very good news,’ said Prof Parker. ‘Immunotherapy drugs which train the immune system to fight off cancer has been the big success story for cancer in the past decade, but they’ve had limited results for breast cancer patients.
‘For that reason, antibody-drug conjugates could play an important role in the coming years.
One patient to benefit from Trodelvy is Karen Corrigan, 42, from Nottingham, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in January 2018 after she found a lump in her left breast.
The singer underwent chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment and was given the all-clear six times, but the cancer kept returning.
In January 2020 Karen underwent a mastectomy, but in April scans showed the cancer had come back and spread to her liver and lungs. ‘The doctors told me there was nothing they could do at this point,’ Karen says. ‘I’m a tough cookie and I try to stay positive, but I knew that I didn’t have long.’
Patients at this stage are expected to survive no longer than a year.
However, Karen’s doctor was able to get her on to a Trodelvy trial, and she began taking it last month.
She said: ‘I cried and cried when my doctor told me I was going to get the drug because I knew it was the only thing that works for patients like me. I feel so blessed to have that extra time with my family.’
Karen is now on holiday in Florida, with 14 of her closest family and friends. But the drug isn’t without side effects – she lost her hair during the flight to the US.
Yet she says it was manageable. ‘I don’t want to know how long I have, so I want to keep living my life until my body tells me otherwise.’