Sunday, October 21, 2018

When are drug costs and side effects too much?

Study shows new hope for some breast cancer patients through immunotherapy drugs


Breast cancer for a long time was in effect immune from immunotherapy. That apparently is no longer the case.

According to an Associated Press story by Marilynn Marchione this week, one of the new immunotherapy drugs "has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease."

For the first time.

There's a big caveat lurking in the researchers' labs, however: "The benefit for most women was small."

And that, according to Marchione's story, raised questions "about whether the treatment is worth its high cost and side effects."

Results of the new study — which tested a drug from Roche called Tecentriq — were discussed at a cancer conference in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The type of drugs in question, called checkpoint inhibitors, have previously been found helpful in treatments of many other cancers "by removing a chemical brake that keeps the immune system from killing tumor cells."

Their discovery, in fact, recently earned scientists a Nobel Prize.

Dr. Michael Hassett
Side effects of the chemo and Tecentriq, which costs $12,500 a month, included nausea and low blood cell counts, similar to other treatments.

The story quoted Dr. Michael Hassett of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who didn't take part in the study, as saying "he felt 'cautious excitement' that immunotherapy may prove helpful for certain breast cancer patients."

Details about other research on and treatments for the disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fighting the virus that spreads through sex

Federal regulators boost their OK on use of cervical cancer vaccine from age 26 to age 45


U.S. regulators have expanded the use of Merck's cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil 9, to adults up to age 45.
The vaccine, according to a recent story by Linda A. Johnson of the Associated Press, was previously approved only for preteens and young adults through 26.

Johnson's article notes that the vaccine protects against the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, certain other cancers and genital warts — and that the virus is "very common and is spread through sex."

HPV, it goes on to say, "doesn't cause any problems, but some infections persist and eventually lead to cancer."

Johnson also writes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated about 14 million people become newly infected with HPV each year, mostly teens and young adults" — and adds that 33,700 are diagnosed annually with a cancer caused by an HPV infection.

The latest version of the pharmaceutical giant's vaccine protects "against nine strains of HPV, four more than the original" did in 2006, the story indicates.

Details about other new vaccines and drug, and other Federal Drug Administration action, can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

'Fundamental change' in treating tumor cells

Nobel Prize goes to American, Japanese working separately on cancer immunotherapies


Two researchers who worked on game-changing therapies that unleash brakes against cancer have won 2018's Nobel Prize for medicine.
James P. Allison (left) and Tasuko Honjo
The pair — Dr. James P. Allison of the MC Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Dr. Tasuko Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan — found "checkpoint inhibitor" therapies that "greatly increased survival of cancer patients and may produce even greater results when combined with traditional therapies," according to an online story this week by Tina Hesman Saey in ScienceNews, the nonprofit magazine of the Society for Science & the Public.

The article indicates that "all previous types of cancer therapy were directed at the tumor cell, but Allison's and Honjo's approach was to remove brakes that keep the immune system in check."

The two, who were working separately, will equally share the prize of just over $1 million.

An earlier piece by Saey and Aimee Cunningham in ScienceNews noted that they had identified proteins that act as brakes on tumor-fighting T cells.

A Reuters story said the "scientists' work in the 1990s has since swiftly led to new and dramatically improved therapies for cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, which had previously been extremely difficult to treat."

Treatments known as immune checkpoint blockade that resulted from their work, the piece added, "'have fundamentally changed the outcome' for some advanced cancer patients," the Nobel institute said."

The discoveries consequently spawned a multi-billion dollar market for new cancer medicines.

Reuters quoted a professor at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, Kevin Harrington, as contending the two scientists' work had revolutionized cancer treatment:

"We've gone from being in a situation where patients were effectively untreatable to having a range of therapy options that, when they work, work very well indeed," he said in a statement. "For some patients we see their tumors shrink or completely disappear and are effectively cured."

More information on research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.