Potential new treatment for bladder cancer

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A breakthrough in the treatment of one of the most deadly cancers in the UK has been made by British scientists.

Bladder cancer is seventh on the list of most common cancers in Britain, however, research related to it has been neglected and no new treatments have been introduced for three decades. It is also one of the main cancer killers, with around 5000 deaths annually, or about 14 per day.

One in ten instances of the disease is not spotted until it has already spread from the bladder to other parts of the body. Patients at this point are only expected to live for one to one and a half years after their diagnosis. Many patients forgo chemotherapy, due to its debilitating side-effects and limited benefits, and choose to make the most of the time they have left. Others are too ill or too old to cope with the cocktail of drugs necessary.

The new drug has produced excellent results, with limited side-effects.

According to researcher Tom Powles, from Queen Mary University, London, the drug has ‘revolutionised’ trial patients’ lives.

Many bladder tumours contain a protein which turns the immune system off. This new drug, known as MPDL3280A, switches the immune system back on and then proceeds to attack the cancer.

A trial undertaken at Barts Cancer Institute in London involved patients with cancer that was considered untreatable. The drug reduced the size of the tumours in more than 50% of patients who had the protein, but it also helped some of the patients with tumours that did not have the protein.

Some patients have experienced a complete disappearance of the cancer. One male has not had a recurrence of the cancer, one year after commencing treatment.

The drug is unlike to become available until the trial stage is completed. A larger, second trial has just been completed, with a third set to begin shortly.

It also shows promise for the fight against other cancer, including skin and bowel cancers.

The drugs watchdog in the US is so impressed by the results achieved that it may waive the waiting period for results from other trials, and give the approval for use of the drug.

Authorities in Europe may wait for all the data, prior to approval, which means it could take several years for the drug to become available to patients.

The drug is given to patients via a three-weekly drip, and is being developed by Roche, the same company behind the ‘wonder drug’ Herceptin, used in breast cancer treatment.

Professor Peter Johnson from Cancer Research UK said it is good to have found a new treatment for a cancer type where progress has been limited for so many years.

Image Credit: Libertas Academica

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