Smart cancer drug on sale in the UK

A new "smart" cancer drug will be available to patients in Britain today which works by deploying two chemical 'bullets' that attack specific molecular targets, starving tumours of nutrients and inhibiting the enzyme that signals cells to multiply.

Experts say the two-prong approach may be better than the single approach now offered by the extremely successful drug Glivec.

The drug is will be used to treat patients when other anti-cancer drugs have failed to improve their condition.

The new drug, Sutent, is one of the latest three Glivec-like drugs that are at various stages of development, and cancer specialists believe it will be useful in treating different kinds of tumours.

Since its introduction in 2001, Glivec has transformed the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia and a rare form of stomach cancer and it may well be useful in treating other cancers too.

Sutent is licensed across the UK to treat metastatic renal cell carcinoma, or advanced kidney cancer, and a rare cancer known as GIST (gastro-intestinal stromal tumour) which affects the stomach.

The groundbreaking new drug was seen in trials in the U.S. to significantly prolong the lives of sufferers with advanced kidney cancer that had not responded to conventional drugs.

Sutent caused tumours to shrink in 40 per cent of patients, and in a further 28 per cent they stabilised.

The treatment however is expensive and costs around $4,500 per month; the National Health Service (NHS) may limit its use to a second treatment only after other drugs fail.

According to experts, it has doubled the time a kidney cancer patient can live without tumour growth and cut the risk of the stomach cancer progressing by 67%.

And early trial results also suggest that Sutent has the potential to be effective against breast, lung and pancreatic cancers.

The drug also improves the patients' quality of life as it is has a less radical effect on the body than other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

Research is now being conducted into whether the drug is effective as a first-line treatment for early stage kidney cancer.

Cancer Research UK has however cautioned against the new treatment being seen as a 'wonder drug' and says it is too early for such claims to be justifiable.

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