Thursday January 24, 2019

Immunotherapy Drugs Show Significant Improvement Against Breast Cancer: Study

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts.

0
//
Breast Cancer
Chemists develop unique disease-fighting 'nano-grenades'. VOA

For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. But the benefit for most women was small, raising questions about whether the treatment is worth its high cost and side effects.

Results were discussed Saturday at a cancer conference in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drugs called checkpoint inhibitors have transformed treatment of many types of cancer by removing a chemical brake that keeps the immune system from killing tumor cells. Their discovery recently earned scientists a Nobel Prize. Until now, though, they haven’t proved valuable against breast cancer.

Breast Cancer
Weight loss may lower breast cancer risk for post-menopausal women. Pixabay

In the study

The new study tested one from Roche called Tecentriq plus chemo versus chemo alone in 902 women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer. About 15 percent of cases are this type, their growth is not fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or the gene that Herceptin targets, making them hard to treat.

Women in the study who received Tecentriq plus chemo went two months longer on average without their cancer worsening compared with those on chemo alone, a modest benefit. The combo did not significantly improve survival in an early look before long-term follow-up is complete.

Failed protein test

Previous studies found that immunotherapies work best in patients with high levels of a protein that the drugs target, and the plan for the breast cancer study called for analyzing how women fared according to that factor if Tecentriq improved survival overall.

breast cancer
FILE – A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice, July 26, 2012. VOA

The drug failed that test, but researchers still looked at protein-level results and saw encouraging signs. Women with high levels who received the combo treatment lived roughly 25 months on average versus about 15 months for women given chemo alone.

That’s a big difference, but it will take more time to see if there’s a reliable way to predict benefit, said Dr. Jennifer Litton of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She had no role in running the study but enrolled some patients in it and oversees 14 others testing immunotherapies.

“We’re really hopeful that we can identify a group of women who can get a much bigger and longer response,” she said.

Another breast cancer specialist with no role in the study, Dr. Michael Hassett at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said he felt “cautious excitement” that immunotherapy may prove helpful for certain breast cancer patients.

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer cell, Wikimedia Commons

Side effects and cost

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts, but serious ones were more common with the combo treatment and twice as many women on it stopped treatment for that reason.

Three of the six deaths from side effects in the combo group were blamed on the treatment itself; only one of three such deaths in the chemo group was.

Also Read: New DNA Tool To Predict People’s Height And Risk For Cancer

Cost is another concern. Tecentriq is $12,500 a month. The chemo in this study was Celgene’s Abraxane, which costs about $3,000 per dose plus doctor fees for the IV treatments. Older chemo drugs cost less but require patients to use a steroid to prevent allergic reactions that might interfere with the immunotherapy. Abraxane was chosen because it avoids the need for a steroid, said one study leader, Dr. Sylvia Adams of NYU Langone Health.

The study was sponsored by Roche and many study leaders consult or work for the company or own stock in it. (VOA)

Next Story

Protein Identified Enables New Drugs to Increase ‘Good Cholesterol’ Levels

Importantly, ORP2 could also be targeted to fight cancer. 

0
ORP2 could offer a new strategic line of research and possibly succeed where the use of statins in this area hasn't, Yang noted.

Researchers have identified a protein, known as ORP2, responsible for transporting cholesterol inside cells that opens the way for new drugs to increase the body’s ‘good cholesterol’ levels.

ORP2 can increase the amount of cholesterol in cells, a process called cholesterol efflux. We think this pathway will be very important for the development of a drug to increase this good cholesterol, said Rob Yang, Professor from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Until now, drugs including statins have targeted bad cholesterol (LDL) by inhibiting its synthesis in the liver in an effort to mitigate the risk of heart disease and stroke.

However, while statins are effective at lowering LDL levels, they do little to increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and there is no other drug in use that can significantly boost the human body’s HDL levels.

Congo
Researchers have identified a protein, known as ORP2, responsible for transporting cholesterol inside cells that opens the way for new drugs to increase the body’s ‘good cholesterol’ levels. . VOA

Up to 90 per cent of a cell’s cholesterol is found at the cell’s plasma membrane, said the study published in the journal Molecular Cell.

“Knowing the molecules that deliver cholesterol to the plasma membrane itself is a huge step forward. The transport of cholesterol to the plasma membrane is the key to the generation of HDL.

If such a drug could be developed, it would not replace statins, but would be used complementarily, with one drug used to reduce the bad cholesterol and the other to increase levels of the good, Yang suggested.

Also Read: Number of Students Opting for Science or Tech Are On Rise in India

Importantly, ORP2 could also be targeted to fight cancer.

Cancer, U.S.

Importantly, ORP2 could also be targeted to fight cancer.

The rampant and uncontrolled growth of cells that characterises cancer could be stopped in its tracks by reducing the amount of cholesterol produced.

ORP2 could offer a new strategic line of research and possibly succeed where the use of statins in this area hasn’t, Yang noted. (IANS)