Genentech's Breast Cancer Cocktail Buys More Than a Year of Life

Published: Feb 25, 2015

Genentech's Breast Cancer Cocktail Buys More Than a Year of Life
February 20, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO -- A combination of two drugs manufactured by Genentech mixed with a chemotherapy drug can extend the lives of some patients battling the often fatal advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer by more than a year, according to new research conducted at a Washington hospital and published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

HER-2-positive breast cancer is caused by the over production of the HER-2 gene in tumor cells. An over production of the gene causes cells in cancerous tumors to divide, multiply and grow more rapidly than normal, which makes the cancer more aggressive. The HER-2 gene is known as an oncogene, something Genentech scientists have been exploring since the 1980s.

In approximately 25 percent of women with breast cancer, there is a genetic alteration in the HER-2 gene that produces an increased amount of the growth factor receptor protein on the tumor cell surface, according to the Genentech website. Genentech researchers have designed a targeted monoclonal antibody to "shut off" the HER-2 gene, making the cancerous cells grow more slowly.

The medications that showed so much promise in the study include two laboratory-engineered antibodies, Herceptin, which was manufactured to fight HER-2 and the complimentary drug pertuzumab, which is marketed under the brand name Perjeta. The two drugs are mixed with docetaxel, a standard medication in chemotherapy.

The medication cocktail was used in a study of about 800 patients battling advanced breast cancer. The growth of tumors in patients who received the trio of drugs slowed and the patients, on average, lived about 16 months longer than average patients with HER-2. Patients diagnosed with advanced HER-2 often have a life expectancy of two to three years. The patients in the study who received the trio of medications lived about 56 months, 16 months longer than those who did not receive the pharmaceutical cocktail.

While the medication combination has shown positive results, the treatment has a steep price. According to a NBC news report, the regimen of medications has a cost of about $10,000 per month. It also has some side effects, including an increase in diarrhea and development of a rash from the Perjeta. Herceptin can also result in some heart and lung problems, according to Genentech’s website.

Currently the trio of drugs has been approved for treatment of advanced stages of breast cancer, but researchers are looking to see if it could be used for patients in early stages of the disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. The American Cancer Society estimates 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2015. The organization also estimates about 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year.

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