New drug combo offers hope for breast cancer
A new drug that can "kill" sleeping cancerous cells and increase the effectiveness of current treatments offers hope to breast cancer patients.
Venetoclax is being tested on patients, after lab research found it could attack and kill the cancerous cells which under current treatments would be left "sleeping".
Researchers found that combining venetoclax with the current two-step treatment of hormone therapy and drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors destroyed the cells and enhanced the immune system.
Venetoclax boosted the outcomes of women who are oestrogen receptor-positive - which is two-thirds of the 20,000 Australians diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
The trial is a collaboration between the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
It has experts excited for the possibility of a "triple treatment" when it comes to fighting the disease.
"The current standard treatment is focused on slowing cancer cells, but they don't kill [the cells]," said Dr James Whittle, a PhD student at the Baker Institute and medical oncologist.
"We found that we could add venetoclax and kill these sleeping cancer cells - and that's the first time that's been shown. If we could find a way to kill these sleeping cancer cells, we might be able to help patients live longer."
Fawkner woman Helen Giorgino was told last year that her breast cancer had returbed, after seemingly beating it in 2011, and that it had spread to her bones.
"I thought that was it for me," the mum of one said.
"I put everything into fighting it the first time. It was like a punch in the guts."
But after being offered a spot on the venetoclax trial, Ms Giorgino said her life expectancy "is growing daily".
"The results have already been amazing," she said. "It's responding really well. It's keeping the cancer cells happy. I'm not a lost cause. It gave me hope."
Ms Giorgino, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said she would be forever grateful to those involved in the trial.
"So much credit needs to go to these people, honestly, with what they do," she said.
"Nothing I can say is ever going to be enough."
Sadly, 3000 Australians die from breast cancer every year.
Dr Whittle said the discovery could lead to more "pronounced and prolonged" responses to treatment.
"What we are trying to do now is work out what's the best combination," he said.
"It's early days, but it's obviously exciting for us."
Originally published as How new drug combo offers hope for breast cancer