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Drug Combo Wipes Out Tumor Cells

Herceptin-Tykerb Combo Helps Before Surgery for Early Breast Cancer

Herceptin vs. Tykerb Before Breast Cancer Surgery continued...

A total of 7% of women on Tykerb dropped out due to side effects vs. 3% on Herceptin.

The findings were presented by Michael Untch, MD, head of the multidisciplinary breast cancer department at Helios Clinic in Berlin.

Currently, doctors don't know if tumor cells have been eradicated until the tumor is surgically removed and examined by a pathologist.

But the researchers plan to examine more than 1,500 tumor samples to find out if certain genetic signatures can predict -- with near 100% accuracy -- which women will be cured by the HER2-targeted drugs alone and won't even need surgery, Untch tells WebMD.

The study was funded By Sanofi, Roche, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Pertuzumab Also Shows Promise Before Breast Cancer Surgery

A third, earlier-stage study presented at the meeting showed that adding the experimental drug pertuzumab to Herceptin and chemotherapy wipes out 46% of tumor cells prior to surgery.

"That's about 50% more than achieved with [the chemotherapy drug Taxotere] and Herceptin, the standard therapy," says Luca Gianni, MD, director of medical oncology at the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Tumori di Milano in Italy.

Pertuzumab also blocks the HER2 protein on the outside of the cell, but in a different place than Herceptin.

Neil Spector, MD, professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, tells WebMD the next logical step is to test a combination of all three HER2-targeted drugs "and get away from chemotherapy."

HER2-positive breast cancer was the most lethal type of breast cancer a decade ago, he says. Now, "we are talking about a cure," Spector says.

However, cost can be an issue, he says. Tykerb costs $3,000 to $5,000 per month and Herceptin about $4,100. A price for pertuzumab has not been set.

Spector was not involved with any of the studies, but worked on the early development of Tykerb.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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