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News digest – premature cancer deaths drop, abiraterone approved, new melanoma drug, and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

19 May 2012

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man reading newspaper

It's time for our round-up of the week's headlines

There were a couple big cancer stories this week:

  • Firstly, we released encouraging new statistics (press release) showing that premature deaths from cancer in middle age have dropped to an all-time low. The reason? Fewer people smoking has been a big help, and doctors have also got better at diagnosing cancers early, and treating them successfully. The story was widely covered in the media, including by the Mail Online, which used our infographic.
  • Secondly, we’re delighted that the prostate cancer drug abiraterone will soon be routinely available on the NHS to men who can benefit from it in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Here’s our news story, and here’s how the BBC covered the announcement. While thousands of men will now be able to have this life-extending drug more easily, the UK’s drug approval systems aren’t working nearly as efficiently as they should be – as we point out here.

And there were plenty of other interesting announcements:

  • Our Drug Development Office opened the first trial of a new drug combination in patients with advanced solid tumours and in patients who have non-small cell lung cancer. The trial (press release here) will combine two compounds that aim to starve the tumours while simultaneously blocking their growth.

  • Results of a clinical trial suggest a new drug could help treat melanoma that has spread to the brain, according to US and Australian research published yesterday (here’s our news story). The drug, dabrafenib, is the first to show signs of combating these advanced cancers. This work holds out the promise that the whole class of these drugs – including the recently licensed vemurafenib – may also work against skin tumours that have spread to the brain.
  • We also spotted this Huffington Post article about early clinical trial results of the same drug – dabrafenib – in combination with another experimental drug for melanoma. The results seem encouraging – and after many years with little to shout about – scientists are finally making progress against this hard-to-treat cancer.
  • Researchers found nine new genes involved in the development of breast cancer, bringing the total number to at least 40. As we say in our coverage, the work shows the staggering complexity of breast cancer – no two samples from 100 tumours shared the same combination of gene faults. We’ll be blogging about this – and some other recent breast cancer papers – in more detail early next week.

And finally…

  • Most people think that children should be protected from tobacco marketing, according to a survey we published earlier in the week (press release). If you are among them, please sign up to our campaign to make the tobacco companies remove branding from their packets. We need to protect children from the powerful marketing tools developed by the tobacco industry and getting rid of the glitzy packaging is the essential next step if we are to succeed.