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Experimental Drug Shrinks Breast Tumors

New Drug Wipes Out Cancer Stem Cells That Fuel Tumor Growth

Cancer Stem Cells Drop, Breast Tumors Shrink continued...

The chemo attacks the ordinary tumor cells, and the experimental compound goes after the breast cancer stem cells, Chang explains.

This study was funded by Merck & Co. which makes the experimental GSI used in the study.

Osborne says that Baylor researchers are also testing a Notch inhibitor in people with leukemia. "In the first patient, we saw a dramatic decrease in cancer stem cells. Then after two to three months, as the mother cells were depleted, the patient began to get better," he says.

William Gradishar, MD, a breast cancer expert at Northwestern University, tells WebMD that while current therapies shrink advanced tumors, they eventually start growing again.

"That's because they are not targeting these cancer stem cells. So this appears to be an effective approach," he says.

The next step is larger studies pitting the combination treatment against standard treatment in women with advanced breast cancer, Chang says.

Eventually the researchers hope to test the treatment to women with early-stage breast cancer, where there is better chance of a cure, she adds.

Other Breast Cancer Drugs in Pipeline

At the meeting, Gradishar reported that adding the cancer drug Nexavar to standard chemotherapy extends the time until advanced breast cancer progresses.

In the study of 220 women, tumors shrank in two-thirds of those treated with the Nexavar plus Taxol compared with about half of those treated with Taxol alone.

Also, women given the combination therapy were stable for an average of 8 months vs. 5.6 months for those treated with chemo alone.

Nexavar attacks tumors on multiple fronts, starving them of their blood supply, interfering with cell signaling that spurs tumor growth, and preventing cell division. It's already approved to treat liver and kidney cancers.

Nexavar "may provide added benefit over what you might expect with chemotherapy alone," Gradishar tells WebMD. The study was funded by Bayer and Onyx, which make and distribute Nexavar.

In a third study presented here, researchers reported that a higher dose of the anti-estrogen drug Faslodex works better than the standard dose in postmenopausal patients with advanced breast cancer.

Importantly, women given the higher dose did not experience more side effects than those given the standard dose, says Angelo Di Leo, MD, PhD, of the Hospital of Prato, in Italy.

Astra Zeneca, maker of Faslodex, funded the work.

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