Sea Squirt Drug Offers Cancer Hope
Yondelis Fights Deadly Soft-Tissue Cancer
June 21, 2007 -- A compound derived from the lowly sea squirt fights a
deadly type of soft-tissue cancer and holds promise for ovarian cancer as
The drug, generically known as trabectedin and formerly called ecteinascidin
or ET-743, is branded as Yondelis by maker PharmaMar. It was originally made
from a sea squirt -- the translucent, siphon-like organism also known as the
mangrove tunicate. Yondelis is now synthetically manufactured.
The drug has cancer-fighting properties, although it does not appear to
fight all kinds of cancer. It seems particularly effective against a particular
kind cancer called myxoid liposarcoma.
Myxoid liposarcoma is a killer. It tends to start deep within the body and
spreads quickly. Even when the primary tumor is removed, the cancer spreads to
other organs in about 40% of patients. Survival from this point is usually
about two years.
Yondelis fights this cancer better than any other known treatment, report
Federica Grosso, MD, of Italy's National Cancer Institute in Milan, and
colleagues. Their report appears in the June 21 issue of The
Grosso and colleagues treated 51 myxoid liposarcoma patients with Yondelis.
The results, a median 14 months after treatment:
- Two patients have no evidence of disease.
- 24 patients had partial responses to treatment.
- Overall, more than half of patients responded to treatment.
- Median progression-free survival after treatment was 14 months.
Yondelis is not without side effects. But it appears to have side effects
that are tolerated well, allowing multiple courses of treatment. The most
common side effect noted is elevation of liver enzymes that is reversible. The
drug does not cause hair loss or diarrhea.
Advanced clinical trials are under way for myxoid liposarcoma -- and for
ovarian cancer. Yondelis is being tested in a major, phase III clinical trial
for ovarian cancer. It's no cure, but early results look promising. It already
has FDA and European Commission "orphan drug" status, making it
available for the treatment of soft-tissue sarcomas and ovarian cancer.
Yondelis is also being studied for the treatment of breast cancer, prostate
cancer, and childhood sarcomas.
PharmaMar has partnered with Johnson & Johnson to develop Yondelis.
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