New drug extends breast cancer survival

new breast cancer drug occupational health news

‘Breakthrough’ drug extends breast cancer survival time

A ‘breakthrough’ drug aimed at treating breast cancer is continuing to show positive results in Phase III trials.

The drug, Capivasertib, first attracted headlines when some of the first trial results were published at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December 2022. Now the full trial results have been published in the New England Journal or Medicine, showing a more than doubling of survival times for some types of breast cancer.

How does Capivasertib work?

Capivasertib targets a particular protein molecule called AKT, which aims to treat patients with oestrogen receptor positive, HER2 negative breast cancer. This is a very common type of breast cancer and it is often caused by an overactive AKT response in the body. Scientists hoped that blocking AKT from working would deliver a strong anti-cancer effect.

The drug is called a “small-molecule” cancer drug and is designed to have exactly the right to ‘lock’ onto a target protein, a bit like a molecular key. The action aims to then prevent a cancer progressing.

The drug in a British success story, because it was synthesised at the Institute for Cancer Research in London, in partnership with a UK biotech firm, Astex Pharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca.

Whilst Capivasertib was designed to tackle one specific type of breat cancer (oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer) it is possible that it may work against other cancers too.

What did the latest trial results show?

The study just published focused on evaluating the effectiveness and safety of Capivasertib when it was added to an existing treatment, fulvestrant therapy, in patients with advanced breast cancer.

The researchers specifically targeted individuals with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer that had relapsed or had progressed after treatment.

The study involved a randomised, double-blind trial (the gold standard of scientific research) with both pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women and men. The participants were randomly divided into two groups: one receiving capivasertib plus fulvestrant and the other receiving a placebo plus fulvestrant.

The researchers assessed the progression-free survival (the length of time without disease progression) as the primary factor.

A total of 708 patients were enrolled in the study, with 289 (40.8%) having AKT pathway alterations, and 489 (69.1%) having previously received an inhibitor treatment for advanced breast cancer.

The results showed thatpatients receiving Capivasertib plus fulvestrant had an average progression-free survival of 7.2 months, compared to 3.6 months in the placebo plus fulvestrant group.

Some patients did report side effects such as a rash and diarrhoea, which led to the treatment being discontinued in 13% of patients. Sadly the drug does not seem to suit every patient.

It may still be some time before the drug becomes available on the NHS or via private medical insurers, yet it is a shining example of science continuing to tackle the most pernicious diseases.

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