Cancer is one of the most influential aliments of this era. It seems that no one reaches adulthood without being impacted by it, even if only in a small way. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), each year, there are more than 14 million people who are diagnosed with cancer while another 8 million people die from the disease. This is truly a Global Concern.
Today, more than twice as many people die from cancer than from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
Though these facts sound depressing, scientists are continually pushing the boundaries of medical research and creating new hope. Case in point, in clinical trials, a drug called eribulin has been shown to help extend the lives of individuals with the most advanced forms of breast cancer by an average of 5 months. Surprisingly, the drug works by mimicking the behavior of a compound naturally found in sea sponges.
Eribulin works by stopping the cancer cells from separating into two new cells. This type of drug is called a "microtubule inhibitor.' And while Eribulin was originally developed from a sea sponge (Halichondria okadai) it is now made in the laboratory.
The research was recently presented at the National Cancer Research Institute, and shows that people with advanced triple negative breast cancer (including those who receive a late stage diagnosis) have an improved life expectancy when taking the drug. The research consisted of two major clinical trials of more than 1,800 women with breast cancer that had started to spread to other parts of the body.
When cancer begins to spread to other organs it is known as "metastasis," and it is responsible for approximately 90% of all cancer deaths. As the press release notes, "when patients with breast cancer are diagnosed after the disease has started to spread, 10-year survival is around one in 10, compared to nearly nine in 10 for those diagnosed at the earliest stage."
It's now passed Phase III clinical trials, which is the last step before a drug is released onto the market.
"Eribulin has previously been offered to women who've already been through several lines of chemotherapy. But the European Union has recently approved eribulin for patients who have received less treatment for their breast cancer, which means we hope to give more patients another treatment option in the not-too-distant future,” said Chris Twelves, an oncologist based at the University of Leeds in the UK who led the research, in a press release.
"These results are encouraging and may offer valuable extra time to patients whose cancers have stopped responding to conventional treatments and have few options left. Advanced breast cancer can be very difficult to treat so these results take us a small, important step in the right direction,” said Martin Ledwick, the head information nurse at Cancer Research UK.
It's not a cure, but it is a step forward. And that's certainly something.