Genentech breathes new life into failed breast cancer drug

Genentech ($DNA) has found a new use for a failed drug. At the annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the drugmaker revealed that pertuzumab and Herceptin in addition to chemotherapy caused tumors to disappear in 45.8 percent of newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients, compared with 29 percent receiving only Herceptin and chemotherapy. The trial included 419 women with early-stage, HER2-positive breast cancer--a genetic mutation that is present in about one quart of breast cancer cases.

Xconomy notes that pertuzumab was as good as gone in 2005. It was originally engineered to be a successor to Herceptin, but showed limited activity in Phase II trials of the treatment for ovarian, breast, and prostate tumors. But today's announcement indicates that pertuzumab real value as a combination therapy. Though patients experienced some notable side effects--including neutropenia, febrile neutropenia and severe diarrhea--Xconomy points out that the lack of cardiac events is encouraging, as Herceptin has been known to cause heart problems in rare cases.

In 2011, Roche and Genetech plan to start a Phase III study of the drug in early-stage, HER2-positive early breast. A separate late-stage trial will test the efficacy and safety profile of pertuzumab and Herceptin plus chemotherapy as a first-line treatment in people with HER2-positive breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Results are expected by the end of 2011.

- take a look at the Genentech release
- check out the Xconomy article