Treatment extends lives of patients with terminal ovarian and lung cancers

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By Guardian news, press association

Patients in study had ‘exhausted all other options’ but new combination halted their cancer for an average of 5.8 months

A new treatment for patients with advanced ovarian and lung cancer could give them months longer to spend with their loved ones, early trial results suggest.

The combination of targeted drug vistusertib and paclitaxel chemotherapy stopped the growth of cancer for nearly six months and caused the tumours of some to shrink, according to the study published in Annals of Oncology.

The researchers, led by a team at the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said the findings show “promise”.

The phase I trial, designed primarily to test the safety of the drugs, saw the drug combination given to 25 women with high-grade serous ovarian cancer and 40 patients with squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

All those involved had advanced cancers and for each patient standard treatment had failed.

More than half of ovarian cancer patients (52%) and a third (35%) of lung cancer patients treated with the combination had at least a 30% reduction in the size of their tumours.

The treatment stopped both types of cancer from growing for an average of 5.8 months.

Prof Udai Banerji, deputy director of the drug development unit at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden, said: “We combined chemotherapy with a targeted drug which blocks the way cancer cells react to treatment in order to survive.

“What we saw was very exciting. Over half the women with ovarian cancer and over a third of lung cancer patients saw their tumours shrink – and these are patients who had exhausted all other options.”

The researchers developed the drug combination after noticing that ovarian cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy have high levels of a molecule called p-S6K, which may help them to grow quickly.

Vistusertib targets two proteins which activate p-S6K. The scientists believe combining the drug with paclitaxel chemotherapy stops the cancer cells from being able to use the molecule to grow.

Prof Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, said: “It’s wonderful that the study has given many of the women and men enrolled in the trial many months extra to spend with their loved ones, where previously they had run out of all treatment options. I eagerly await the results from larger trials of this drug combination.”

About 140 women with relapsed ovarian cancer have been recruited for the phase II trial, with results on the effectiveness of the combination compared to chemotherapy alone expected next year.

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