Sea sponge drug may extend advanced breast cancer survival

In collaboration with Adfero

A new drug, based on a natural extract from sea sponge, may help to extend the lives of women with advanced breast cancer, UK scientists have found.

A research team at the University of Leeds and St James's Institute of Oncology led an international trial of the new chemotherapy drug, eribulin mesylate.

The drug is based on a natural substance from the marine sponge Halichondria okadai and is a 'microtubule dynamics inhibitor' which affects cancer cells' ability to divide.

In the EMBRACE trial, 762 patients with advanced breast cancer received either eribulin or standard cancer treatment.

All of the patients had already been heavily treated with conventional therapies, but their disease had returned or spread to other parts of the body.

Presenting their findings at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the study authors revealed that average survival was typically 25 per cent longer for women who took eribulin mesylate.

Those who took the new drug lived for 13.1 months, on average, compared with 10.7 months for those on conventional chemotherapy. The drug was also well-tolerated by most patients.

Lead investigator Professor Christopher Twelves revealed: "Until now, there hasn't really been a standard treatment for women with such advanced breast cancer. For those women who have already received all of the recognised treatments, these are promising results.

"These results may establish eribulin as a new, effective treatment for women with late-stage metastatic breast cancer," he added.

The drug is not yet available for routine clinical treatment and is awaiting regulatory approval in the European Union, the US and Japan.

Dr Eric Winer, a Harvard researcher who was not involved in the EMBRACE study, said that the number of new chemotherapy drugs may be limited in the future, as the approach is being replaced by targeted therapies.

"That said, this may be one of the last, and potentially provide women with an additional option and maybe an option to be used in combination with targeted therapies in the future," he added.

Dr Laura Bell, science communications officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is the first study giving robust evidence about how to treat women whose breast cancer has come back, despite having been treated several times before."