New Genetic Tool For
Breast Cancer Announced
From Discovery News Briefs
Attacking cancer at its genetic roots has been a goal of science for two decades. Researchers say they now have the first evidence that they can actually do it, pointing to success in an entirely new approach to fighting cancer.
The maker of Herceptin, Genentech Inc., hopes that it will be approved and put on the market by next fall. It could quickly become a standard treatment for the one-quarter or more of breast cancer patients whose tumors are driven by multiple copies of a gene called HER-2.
HER-2 produces a protein on the surface of breast cells that serves as a receiving point for growth-stimulating hormones. These hormones cause the cells to reproduce out of control and spread through the body.
Scientists reasoned they might reduce HER-2's impact by somehow blocking the extra hormone docking points created by the gene. At Genentech, scientists cloned antibodies designed to do this. One turned out to be Herceptin, the first treatment designed from start to finish to attack a specific genetic error unique to cancer cells.
Results of the first large studies of Herceptin were presented Sunday at the society's annual scientific meeting, attended by about 18,000 cancer specialists.
Doctors tested it on women with invariably fatal advanced breast cancer that had spread to other parts of their bodies. When added to standard treatment, they found it lengthened lives an average of three months. While this may seem modest, researchers said it represents a major impact in such a late stage of the disease.
Researchers predict the results could be much more impressive when the drug is given before it has moved beyond the breast and lymph nodes.
In other cancer news, the researcher who discovered two drugs that have eliminated tumors in mice said he has received federal permission to treat about 30 terminally ill patients who have not responded to other drugs.
The first, very limited tests of the drugs on humans could come by the end of this year or early next, Dr. Judah Folkman told the Chicago Tribune in a story for Sunday editions.
The drugs, angiostatin and endostatin, are highly experimental and have been tried only in mice, where they have caused cancerous tumors to permanently disappear.

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