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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Breast cancer drug wins FDA approval
By Scott Allen, Globe Staff
Federal regulators today approved a new treatment for breast cancer that oncologists believe could be the second coming of Herceptin, one of the most successful anti-cancer drugs of the last decade.
The Food and Drug Administratrion is expected to approve Tykerb, also called lapatinib, for women with advanced cancer that can no longer be controlled by Herceptin, but major studies are already underway to find out if Tykerb should also be given to millions of women who are in the early stages of cancer.
Goss said Tykerb might be even more effective than Herceptin, which is credited with extending the life expectancy by more than 1.5 years for women who suffer HER-2 positive breast cancer. Tykerb, he said, appears to shut down more molecular pathways that lead to cancer than Herceptin partly because Tykerb molecules are small enough to get inside cancer cells. As a result, he said Tykerb could be stronger than Herceptin and work in some women other than the 20 to 30 percent who have the HER2-positive form of the disease.
"If I can equate it to lighting a building and your task is to turn all the lights off, you can go room by room and turn them off, or if you're lucky, you discover a circuit breaker that can shut down whole floors," said Goss. Tykerb "might be that circuit breaker."
Goss said it's premature for doctors to prescribe Tykerb for early stage breast cancer unless women can't take Herceptin for some reason, such as side effects. In the long run, he said doctors will likely need both, though women may like Tykerb better because, unlike Herceptin, it's a pill rather than an injection.