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AstraZeneca’s breast cancer drug found to reduce risk of dying in major breakthrough

AstraZeneca’s cancer drug is offering new hope for cancer patients around the world after the pharmaceutical giant said its breast cancer drug Enhertu significantly reduced the risk of dying or disease progression in women with advanced disease during a large clinical trial.

For women with metastatic breast cancer, an advanced form of the disease where tumors have spread to other parts of the body, Enhertu reduced the risk of death or tumor progression by 72% compared with Kadcyla, the current standard treatment, the trial found.

In the trial, 75.8% of women treated with Enhertu had no disease progression one year into treatment. Of the women treated with Kadcyla, the treatment now in used widely, 34.1% had no disease progression one year on.

The result of the study is also the latest sign that AstraZeneca’s push into oncology is starting to pay off handsomely.

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The phase-three trial, called DESTINY-Breast03, compared Enhertu with Kadcyla in around 500 women whose tumors produce high levels of a protein called HER2 and whose cancers haven’t responded to earlier treatment. Kadcyla, made by Roche AG , is the current standard of care in these patients.
“We’ve never seen a magnitude of benefit like this in metastatic breast cancer before,” said Dave Fredrickson, AstraZeneca’s head of oncology.

AstraZeneca, which along with Oxford University developed one of the world’s most widely used Covid-19 vaccines, has invested heavily in cancer medicine in recent years.

Like other drug makers, it has been drawn to oncology by a string of scientific breakthroughs and the promise of high returns. The company bet big on Enhertu, having acquired the shared rights to the drug through a $6.9 billion deal with Japan’s Daiichi-Sankyo Co., its original developer, in 2019.

In addition to treating patients with advanced cancer, AstraZeneca hopes the drug could also be used to treat, and potentially cure, early-stage disease.

The results, shared at a medical conference Saturday, suggest that Enhertu could have further success in earlier stages of treatment and other forms of cancer, said Jefferies analyst Peter Welford. He and others predict that Enhertu could potentially generate billions of dollars in yearly sales for AstraZeneca.

Enhertu is currently used as a so-called third-line treatment in women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer. That means it is used after two previous forms of treatment have failed to stop disease progression. The latest results will pave the way for Enhertu to be used earlier on in treatment.

Enhertu works by tracking down cancer cells in the body and delivering a dose of chemotherapy at the site of the tumors. In that way, it leaves healthy tissue alone, in contrast with traditional chemotherapy that cannot differentiate between tumor and normal cells.

Javier Cortés, head of the International Breast Cancer Center in Barcelona and one of the trial’s lead investigators, called the results remarkable. He said that patients with previously treated HER2-positive breast cancer typically experience disease progression in less than a year with the currently available treatments and that the results would support the potential of Enhertu to become the new standard of care for these patients.

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