University of Glasgow logoCancer is known to be a fatal disease affecting people from all walks of life. A recent research by a cancer specialist at the University of Glasgow discovered using Herceptin in the treatment of cancer could prolong the life of patient.

According to the findings from ToGA, adding Herceptin to traditional chemotherapy increases the survival chances of patients suffering with aggressive gastric cancer by over four to 16 months. The study apparently proves a 35% increase as compared to the basic chemotherapy treatment.

The research involved Jeff Evans, Professor of Translational Cancer Research at the university. Drug manufacturers believe that Herceptin should be a part of the treatment of patients suffering from advanced gastric cancer. Presently, Herceptin also known as Trastuzumab is not licensed for the treatment of gastric or stomach cancer.

The findings reveal that Roche, manufacturer of Herceptin have submitted a label extension with the EU Health Authorities which says that the drug should be used in HER2-positive advanced gastric cancer. The decision is expected to be announced in early 2010.

“Trastuzumab’s impressive efficacy in improving patient survival represents a significant advance in how we treat patients with this aggressive type of advanced gastric cancer,” said UK investigator Professor Evans. “The results of the study mean that we need to establish accurate HER2 testing of all patients with advanced gastric cancer.”

Currently, HER2 testing for the patients with gastric cancer in the UK is not conducted regularly and needs to be stimulated before the prescription of Herceptin in these patients. The sub-analysis of the international phase III study is among the group of patients whose tumors express higher levels of HER2. Presently, the same criteria are suggested to treat patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

Herceptin caught everyone’s eye, when Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, declared that women with early stage HER2-positive breast cancer should be permitted for the treatment and for early HER2 testing. The data presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting also showed that the drug gave women exceptional survival benefits.

The drug’s effect on patients with gastric cancer illustrated that a targeted medicine may give patients a good fortune. It also emphasizes that treating HER2-positive tumors should not be restricted only to the treatment of breast cancer.

Supposedly, gastric cancer is the seventh common cause of cancer-related death in the UK with around 8000 cases identified every year. Most of the patients do not show symptoms in the early stage; hence early diagnosis becomes a difficult task. One of the major causes of death seems to be poor diagnosis of the disease. Study at ToGA shows appproximately 17% of stomach tumors express higher levels of HER2. The study uses a validated methodology to evaluate HER2 status in patients with advanced gastric cancer.

‘‘We are pleased to see the impressive benefit that the targeted therapy trastuzumab provides for patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer,’’ added William Burns, CEO of Roche’s Pharmaceuticals Division. “Trastuzumab will become the new standard of care and will make an important contribution to helping these patients.”

The results of ToGA study show that there were no new or unexpected side effects. The side effects observed with the patients were diarrheoa (4.8%) and febrile neutropenia (3.4%).

The research work was presented at the joint 15th Congress of the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and the 34th Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Berlin, Germany. Trastuzumab is supposed to be a good fortune for the patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. Roche has filed the use of this drug in Europe for treating HER2-positive gastric cancer.