A pill a day gives renewed hope for breast cancer victims

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A new breast cancer 'wonder drug' could be available to British women within a matter of months.

The drug Tykerb taken once a day, at home, in pill form, renews hope to at least a third of the 43,000 British women diagnosed with the devastating disease each year.

The Tykerb tablets slow down the progression of the advanced form of two types of breast cancer, known as HER1 and HER2 and will give even those in the last stages of the disease extra months of life.

Tykerb has been heralded as being even more effective than the highly-rated Herceptin and could be approved for use by early next year.

Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline is about to apply for a licence for the drug, which means it could be prescribed to women in the late stages of the disease in the new year and following further research, could be cleared for women in the early stages of the disease within just two years.

Tykerb is expected to be cheaper than Herceptin which at present costs £24,000 for a year's course, but will not be available on the NHS unless the Government's drugs rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), decides its benefits outweigh the cost.

Tykerb, also known as lapatinib, targets cancer cells and attacks them from within and has been shown to have the ability to kill the two proteins which are responsible for fuelling the growth of at least a third of breast cancers.

Herceptin, which is given intravenously, only targets one of the proteins.

The drug also apparently works in women who have become resistant to Herceptin, is easier to administer and has fewer side-effects.

Trials with women whose health was deteriorating because of the breast cancer showed that Tykerb slows down the progression of the advanced form of the two types of breast cancer, known as HER1 and HER2.

The women were getting worse despite treatment with Herceptin and other drugs and in the trials half of the women took Tykerb in combination with another treatment called Xeloda, while the other half took Xeloda alone.

Those taking Tykerb and Xeloda found their condition did not deteriorate any further for an average of 37 weeks, while those on Xeloda alone were only given a 20-week reprieve.

So successful and promising were the outcomes that the trial was halted six months early and Glaxo is now applying for Tykerb to be licensed for use in advanced breast cancer, where the disease has spread either through the breast or through the body.

It will initially be used in cases where Herceptin fails to work, but is likely to become more widely used over time.

The researchers say that Tykerb also offers hope in treating the spread of cancer to the brain, a common occurrence in advanced breast cancer, as the drug has been seen to prevent the spread of the disease to the brain and can help shrink the cancer if it does take root there.

Tykerb is also showing promise in treating kidney and liver cancers but unless NICE approves it's use it will be down to individual trusts to decide whether to fund the drug, creating once again a postcode lottery.

Glaxo says it is aware of issues around the pricing of new oncology treatments and is committed to making the drug as affordable as possible.

Tykerb is one of three cancer medicines that Glaxo hopes to launch next year, the others are the cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix and platelet-booster eltrombopag.

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