New treatment against breast cancer

GlaxoSmithKline has launched a new treatment for breast cancer. The treatment is Tyverb® (lapatinib), for women with ErbB2-positive advanced breast cancer, whose disease has stopped responding to trastuzumab (Herceptin®).

Lapatinib targets the aggressive and fast-growing ErbB2-positive disease, but, unlike trastuzumab, it is a small molecule and can get into the cancer cell, to fight the disease from within. Sadly, in many women, with ErbB2 positive advanced breast cancer who initially respond to treatment with trastuzumab and chemotherapy the cancer will start to grow again within a year of starting treatment.  Until lapatinib received its conditional licence, there were no other licensed ErbB2 treatment options available for these women. Lapatinib, a tablet, is licensed for use in combination with capecitabine (Xeloda®) for ErbB2-positive advanced breast cancer, following treatment with anthracyclines and taxanes (standard chemotherapies), and trastuzumab for advanced disease.

Dr Andrew Wardley, Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, added: "The launch of lapatinib is an important development in the treatment of the more aggressive, ErbB2-positive breast cancer, which affects approximately one in four women with breast cancer. The fact that lapatinib will be taken as an oral combination with capecitabine is an added advantage for both patients and hospitals alike, because it reduces the number of intravenous treatments and hospital visits that may be needed.”

Lapatinib, plus capecitabine, significantly delays the time it takes for the cancer to worsen, compared with capecitabine alone.3,4 Lapatinib, taken in conjunction with capecitabine, is generally well tolerated. The most common side effects are diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting or skin disorders, and the majority of these are mild to moderate in severity.4  Lapatinib’s licence is based on a clinical study of 399 women with advanced ErbB2-positive breast cancer who had received prior treatment with anthracyclines, taxanes, and trastuzumab for advanced disease. 

Lapatinib’s licence is conditional, pending further clinical studies, including an investigation into its potential effect on preventing the spread of cancer to the brain. This is one of the most common sites of relapse in ErbB2-positive breast cancer.

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