A new cancer therapy could be a major breakthrough in the fight against breast cancer, after it was proved to be particularly effective in treating nice.
The research in question has raised hopes that it will be possible to deliver drugs to vital organs by utilising the technique that bypasses cell defences that are currently resistant to treatment by conventional methods.
In tests on mice with incurable breast cancer that had spread to the lungs, half were free of the disease for at least eight months – the equivalent of 24 years in humans.
Researchers conducting the study believe that if the effect can be transferred to humans that it would have a particularly positive influence on metastatic cancers.
“We are talking about changing the landscape of metastatic disease, so it’s no longer a death sentence,” Dr Mauro Ferrari, president of the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas and lead in the study, commented.
The research comes just days after another “staggering” new breast cancer therapy was found to have destroyed deadly tumours in just 11 days.
Ferrari urged caution on the subject, but also indicated his belief that the research has massive potential in treating breast cancer in the future.
“I would never want to over-promise to the thousands of patients looking for a cure but the data is astounding. If this research bears out in humans and we see even a fraction of the survival time, we are still talking about dramatically extending life for many years. That’s essentially a providing a cure in a patient population that is now being told there is none.”
However, despite the undoubtedly positive developments, British cancer experts have been more lukewarm about the research.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, of Breast Cancer Now, emphasised that implementing the technology among human beings will be extremely difficult and challenging.
“While the results look promising in mice, there is still a long way to go before we will know if this technique could be an effective treatment for women.”
Dr Ferrari and his team used a standard chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin, but absorbed it into microscopic discs made of silicon, which disguise the drug from the cancer.
Once inside the tumour cells, the discs break down and release the drug
Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Ferrari explained why the research has been particularly effective.
“Lung and liver metastases are the two main reasons why we lose cancer patients. The results we have proven with this paper is that we can provide a functional cure; we can essentially cure long-term, [giving] disease-free survival for about 50 per cent of the animals that we provided this therapy to.”
Technology continues to produce new innovations in the field of cancer research, prevention and treatment, and a new test is set to revolutionise the niche still further.
By the end of the decade, it is predicted that a 10-minute test which enables cancer to be detected will be available in the UK.
Patients who purchase the “liquid biopsy” would be required to send a small amount of saliva off to a laboratory.
Scientists can then analyse the saliva provided by the patient in order to ascertain whether or not it contains fragments of tumour DNA.
And the good news for people concerned about their health is that the test will be extremely affordable, and widely available in the relatively short-term.
According to Professor David Wong, the scientist behind the test, it would cost roughly £15 to buy and could be sold in the UK in as little as four years time.
And Wong believes that full clinical trials will be undertaken before the end of the existing calendar year.
Wong works at the University of California in Los Angeles, and recently spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington.
Here Wong argued that the test is extremely durable and effective and could boost cancer treatment considerably.
“If there is a circulating signature of a tumour in a person’s blood or saliva, this test will find it. We need less than one drop of saliva and we can turn the test around in 10 minutes. It can be done in a doctor’s office while you wait Early detection is crucial.”
It is already known that the amount of time taken to diagnose cancer can have a huge influence over the efficacy of treatment.
Yet is currently it takes two weeks to diagnose cancer in Britain via a blood test or tissue sample.
Already tests on the new saliva method have produced near perfect results, and it is hoped that it could be implemented in public settings by 2020.
Additionally, Professor Wong believes that it will be possible for the test to be used to detect numerous types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer which has “no effective early screening capabilities”.
Prototypes of the saliva test are being made and will be tested in China and Europe this year. They will need to be given regulatory approval before going on sale in the UK.
Dr Áine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK’s science information officer, was enthusiastic about the new technique.
“Developing new techniques to diagnose cancer earlier is an important part of global efforts to tackle the disease. Detecting tell-tale signs of cancer in blood, saliva or urine, instead of taking tissue samples, is one area that’s showing a lot of promise and could speed up diagnosis. Researchers are working to get these tests ready for routine use – it’s crucial to understand how accurate they are and how doctors can best use them alongside current scans and tests.”
A disturbing survey suggests that parents’ concerns about cancer in children is not being adequately responded to by GPs.
Nearly half of parents whose children were ultimately diagnosed with cancer felt that their worries about the issue were ignored by doctors.
In addition, over one-third felt that the diagnosis of their child’s condition was significantly delayed, with 50% of these people believing that this ultimately had a significant impact on prognosis.
In response to the figures, cancer charity CLIC Sargent, which conducted the research, is calling for the government to ensure better training and guidance for professionals who care for children before diagnosis.
The figures were based on a survey of 333 people – 147 young people aged 16-24 and 186 parents.
CLIC Sargent chief executive Kate Lee commented: “It is simply not acceptable that so many of the parents and young people we spoke to felt their GP didn’t take their concerns seriously or that their knowledge of their child’s health wasn’t recognised. It is absolutely vital that medical professionals including GPs are confident and skilled in listening and talking to children, young people and parents – and responding to their concerns. That’s why we’re calling for health education bodies to make this a core element of professional training.”
And the lack of a satisfactory diagnosis can have a big impact on the way that cancer sufferers feel about their condition.
Respondents to the survey almost ubiquitously (93%) indicated that delays in diagnosis had a negative impact on their mental state.
Unfortunately, the research indicates that there is a continual pattern of not taking cancer symptoms seriously enough in young children, and that delays in diagnoses are having a massive impact on the well-being of those unfortunate enough to ultimately be diagnosed.
But GPs who were surveyed by the charity also suggested that they are unprepared to diagnose cancer adequately in children.
Nearly half in fact indicated that more training is required in this area, while exactly half indicated that additional consultation time would be beneficial for diagnosis.
The aforementioned Lee commented that GPs lack of training was unacceptable, and something that would continue to have an impact on the diagnosis of cancer in children until it is adequately addressed.
“It is striking that so many GPs feel more can be done to help them identify suspected cancer. Cancer in children and young people is thankfully rare so a GP may only have one or two cases in their whole career.”
Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, outlined the position of the health body.
“Early diagnosis must be of the highest priority for cancer patients of all ages. This report highlights the challenges of identifying cancer in children, and shows the vital need for everyone, including GPs, to be more aware of the early signs. NICE guidance has been recently updated to lower the referral threshold for GPs, and we have begun a major programme of work to test innovative ways to diagnose cancer more quickly in all patients.”
Although cancer is associated with older people, it can also be contracted by children and younger people as well.
Indeed, nearly 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer on an annual basis in UK.
Mismanagement of the £1.3 billion Cancer Drugs Fund has led to dying patients missing out on key medication, according to information provided by MPs.
A damning report by the Public Accounts Committee indicates that the fund has been malfunctioning significantly over the last five years.
The budgeting of the organisation has clearly got out of control, and this has led to the health service paying extremely high prices for medication.
The report concluded that “there is no assurance that the Department of Health and NHS England are using their buying power effectively to pay a fair price for cancer drugs. The companies were clearly prepared to reduce their prices to help keep their drugs on the fund’s list.”
One only needs to look at the figures related to the cancer drugs fund in order to understand the extent to which it has grown beyond its original remit.
Its initial budget had been capped at £175 million per year, but this has subsequently risen to in excess of £415 million.
The report documents this, and also explains the consequences of this vast increase in expenditure.
“To help cover this overspend, NHS England had to defer some planned spending on primary care services. NHS England did not start to take action to control costs until November 2014. Since then it has reduced the number of drugs available through the fund.”
Despite the failings of the fund, the report does nonetheless conclude that 80,000 people have received medication through it since it was launched.
But the figures are extremely damning for the fund, and suggests that its future will be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, commented that there had been fundamental economic failings within the fund during the five years that it has operated.
“Clearly they weren’t watching the money. As the costs went up they rapidly delisted, which shows a sign of lack of control. Every time they overspent and had to cut back, that affects patients. If they had managed it better there would have been more benefit for many more patients. It was chaotic.”
Hillier continued by pointing out that the fund had fundamentally failed cancer sufferers in particular.
“One of the reasons for the fund was to focus on rare cancers, but those rare cancers have lost out because more money has been spent on the bulk cancers which should have gone through [routine funding routes].”
An NHS England spokesman commented “This report comes just a day after new independent figures showing the NHS’ great success in improving cancer care and survival rates for patients across England. While we welcome the committee’s support for a redesigned cancer drugs fund, we hope their explicit call for cuts to cancer drugs prices charged to the CDF will be borne in mind as complex decisions on its future are taken in the next few months.”
Overall prescribed medication costs in the NHS total nearly £15 billion.
Medical researchers believe that a new bank storage system will enable greater insight into pancreatic cancer to be acquired.
The bank in question will store tissue from patients, enabling scientists to examine the cancer which regrettably has the lowest survival rate.
At present, the majority of patients suffering with pancreatic cancer are informed that they have little chance of survival.
Generally, pancreatic cancer sufferers can expect to live less than one year once the disease is diagnosed.
Nearly 9,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed every year, with almost exactly the same number of people also dying annually from the vicious condition.
But this new initiative aims to make a serious breakthrough into what is undoubtedly a debilitating form of cancer.
The bank will be collecting samples from six hospitals located in England and Wales, with the ultimate aim of producing superior treatments and earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Merely 1 per cent of sufferers are able to survive for a decade after the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and there has been no improvement in this survival rate over the last 40 years.
But researchers believe that this initiative will make it possible to improve this depressing picture.
Commenting on the issue, Professor Hemant Kocher, from Barts Cancer Institute, stated his belief that the new bank initiative would help in diagnostic terms.
“Surgery is possible in only about 10-15 per cent of patients with pancreas cancer at the moment. We hope this tissue bank will help us develop diagnostic tests so that more patients can have surgery. If diagnosed early enough, they can have surgery. Pancreatic cancer is a complex disease, with a number of alterations in the cancer cells and the cells surrounding the cancer.”
The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) raised £2m to fund the bank, with the intention of positively impacting upon the pancreatic cancer situation in the United Kingdom.
And the organisation believes that the vastly increased number of samples that the initiative will make available will be particularly valuable to researchers.
The PCRF’s founder, Maggie Blanks, stated: “A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will not only ensure that more samples become available to researchers, but that these are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for the very best research to be carried out.”
Pancreatic cancer is the twelfth most common cancer in the world (joint position with kidney cancer), with 338,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012.
The early stages of this cancer do not usually produce symptoms, so the disease is generally advanced when it is diagnosed.
Health regulators in the United States have indicated that they have granted approval to an advanced lung cancer medication.
The drug in question is produced by the pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche Holding, and addresses lung cancer in patients with a specific genetic mutation.
Roche Holding will be selling the drug, alectinib, under the brand name Alecensa.
The medication has been approved with the intention of treating patients with advanced ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Alecensa will be particularly effective in treating those patients within whom this disease has worsened after, or who could not tolerate, treatment with competitor Pfizer’s Xalkori.
There are hopes that the drug will now be approved for wider marketplaces as well, as Roche Holding looks to increase its share of the lung cancer pharmaceutical marketplace.
“Today’s approval provides a new therapy for a group of patients who would have few treatment options once their disease no longer responds to treatment with Xalkori,” Richard Pazdur, head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Hematology and Oncology Products division, commented in an official statement.
Xalkori was seen as an advance in the field of personalised medicine as it was designed to treat only patients with the ALK genetic mutation.
This is a relatively tiny portion of overall cancer sufferers, with this specific group accounting for only 4% of NSCLC patients.
As competition hots up in this particular area of pharmaceuticals, it has been reported that Pfizer is also developing a drug for ALK.
The pharmaceutical heavyweight has had to acknowledge that many patients have stopped responding to its own products Xalkori, and Pfizer is attempting to develop an alternative remedy.
Pfizer has established itself as one of the 50 largest corporations in the world according to Forbes magazine, with a market capitalisation in excess of $200 billion.
The pharmaceutical lobby is famously one of the most influential groupings in the United States, and indeed the industry spends more on lobbying government than any other comparable industrial sector.
While the United States pharmaceutical industry unquestionably produces many valuable medicines, the country has also been criticised for its reliance on responding to illnesses with drugs, as opposed to addressing the cause of problems.
Indeed, the US has something of an addiction to popping pills, with the country one of only two in the world that allows the television advertising of drugs (the other being New Zealand).
The FDA’s Accelerated Approval Program allows conditional approval of a medicine that fills an unmet medical need for a serious condition based on early evidence of clinical benefit.
A confirmatory study is required to verify the benefit of Alecensa for it to gain full approval, the agency revealed.
There are an estimated 158,040 deaths from lung cancer annually in the United States (86,380 in men and 71,660 among women).