I wanted to follow-up about yesterday’s exciting and unexpected news about the new immuotherapy combination breast cancer drug, T-DM1.

T-DMI is being developed byGenentech, which makes the targeted antibody trastuzumab, (Herceptin), and ImmunoGen, which contributed it’s cancer-killing agent DM1.

Genentech, Inc., is owned by Roche, a large international drug company.  Apparently the combined resources of these three companies enabled T-DM1 to be developed.

In a Phase II study started in January, T-DM1 shrank the tumors (also known as objective response) in 33 percent of women with advanced (metastatic) HER2-positive breast cancer  that  had already received an average of seven drugs for metastatic disease, including trastuzumab–the “T” in T-DM1–and lapatinib, prior to starting the trial.  An additional 12% of patients did not respond quite so well, but still had their aggressive tumor growth halted after they started using the new immunotherapy drug.

Yesterday I mentioned that the real story here wasn’t specifically about T-DM1 or breast cancer.  Instead, the effective coupling of the trastuzumab (trade name Herceptin) and DM1 just might be the breakthrough that researchers who have been experimenting using targeted antibody therapies have been searching for:  A way to translate success in the lab to cancer patients battling a number of different types of cancer.

Cancer immunotherapy has been around for years,  As a matter of fact, Herceptin was first used as early as 1998.  But while scientists have always been excited about the potential of using a patient’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells, the concept has never lived-up to the hype.

Using new and exotic therapies involving things like natural killer cells or creating cancer vaccines has constantly intrigued the media and frustrated researchers.  I mean, it all sounds so plausable, doesn’t it?  Finding a way to get a patient’s own body to begin to recognize and destroy it’s own cancer cells.

But T-DM1 is only one example of what may become the most promising type of immunotherapy being developed today. 

Many types of tumors feature something called cell surface receptors that aren’t found on the surfaces of healthy cells.  By developing antibodies that only attacks cells with these receptors, healthy cells are spared.  Sort of a win/win!

Because what I didn’t have time to write about yesterday was how few side-effects many of the patients in the new T-DM1 study were experiencing when compared to more traditional forms of chemotherapy.

The billion dollar question is this:  Will researchers be able to translate apparent gains made against a specific type of breast cancer to other types of cancer?

Stay tuned!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat


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