More than 200,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year. Patients now have an excellent chance of becoming long-term survivors due to better treatments developed over the past few decades. Including to this new treatment is a drug extracted from sea sponge.
Recently in the study of over 750 women with breast cancer, a drug sourced from sea sponges known may extend the lives of breast cancer patients whose cancer had come back by an average of two and a half months. Patients who took the experimental drug called eribulin lived an average of about 13 months, compared with about 10 1/2 months for women who did not take the drug.
The new study involved 762 breast cancer patients whose tumors had spread (metastasized) despite two to five rounds of different chemotherapy drugs. Two-thirds of the women got eribulin, which is given as a short IV infusion two days, every three weeks. The rest received whatever treatment their doctor thought was best, usually another chemotherapy drug but sometimes only supportive care to treat pain and fatigue.
Women on eribulin were 19% less likely to die, the study shows. Their cancer also stayed in check slightly longer: 3.7 months vs. 2.2 months for women on standard treatment. Tumors shrank by 30% or more in 12.2% of women on eribulin vs. 4.7% of women in the other group.
Surprisingly, among women whose tumors did shrink, the duration of response was longer for women in the standard therapy group: 6.7 months vs. 4.1 months in the eribulin group. Twelves cautions against putting too much emphasis on that finding, given that there were only about 10 women in the standard treatment group.
The Food and Drug Administration will decide whether to approve eribulin by Sept. 30, Tokyo-based Eisai said last week. The drugmaker is focusing on cancer treatments in anticipation of a decline in sales when its Aricept Alzheimer’s drug loses U.S. patent protection in November.
Side effects of the drug
About 4% of women taking eribulin developed a potentially life-threatening condition called febrile neutropenia marked by infection, fever, and low white blood cell count. That was about three times the rate of women in the other group.
The most frequent side effects with eribulin were fatigue, weakness, low white blood cell count, hair loss, and nausea. The key thing is that only 4.8% of women actually had to stop treatment, due to side effects.