New drug for advanced breast cancer launched in the UK

In collaboration with Adfero

A new drug designed to treat patients with advanced breast cancer has been launched in the UK, following its approval last month.

Eribulin (brand name Halaven) is a new chemotherapy drug derived from chemicals in marine sponges.

It works by binding microtubules - structures that form the scaffolding that allows cell division. This prevents cancer cells from dividing and causes them to self-destruct. Some other chemotherapy drugs also bind to microtubules, but the way eribulin works is different, and unique at the moment.

Results from the recent Phase III 'EMBRACE' trial of the drug, which involved 762 patients and was carried out by scientists in Barcelona and Leeds, suggest that it may help to extend the lives of patients with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Women who were given eribulin lived for a median of 13.1 months, compared to a median survival of 10.6 months for those on a standard treatment recommended by their doctor.

Eribulin was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in November 2010 and was granted European Commission approval in March 2011 based on the EMBRACE trial results.

It may be given to patients who have previously tried, or were unable to take two common types of chemotherapy - an anthrocycline and a taxane.

Dr Andrew Wardley, consultant medical oncologist and co-chair of the Breast Group at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, said: "Eribulin addresses an urgent need for new treatment options for women with advanced breast cancer who have previously received multiple treatments."

Julia Frater, senior information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's really good to hear new treatments for breast cancer are being licensed and we look forward to seeing NICE's final appraisal decision. Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the UK so it's vital that we continue to look for different ways to treat the disease."