It's an ASCO special news digest this week

It’s a bumper news digest this week. As well as the extremely damp Jubilee celebrations across the UK last weekend, the world’s largest cancer conference took place in Chicago. We’ve got links to some of the main news from the meeting below, as well other stories that caught our eye this week.

ASCO 2012 news

  • There was a lot of buzz at the conference around a new experimental treatment that boosts the immune system of cancer patients. So-called ‘immunotherapy’ has been talked about for many years, but there’s a sense that it is finally coming of age. We blogged about the new drug, which has the rather unmemorable name BMS-936558. What’s particularly notable is that this is the first immunotherapy to show potential benefit for lung cancer patients.
  • Another experimental treatment that got delegates talking was T-DM1, an experimental therapy for HER2-positive breast cancer. The treatment is an ‘antibody-drug conjugate’ – a combination of Herceptin (an antibody) linked to a chemotherapy drug. The treatment is not a cure, but it could help women survive for longer. We covered the research here, and we also spotted this balanced analysis from Dr Michael Wosnick, who points out this most likely represents an incremental advance among many.
  • An experimental hormone treatment called enzalutamide extends the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer, according to research from The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden (here’s our news story). The drug extends life by around five months on average, as well as improving quality of life. Before the approval of abiraterone last month, there were no options for these men, so it really encouraging to see new drugs in the pipeline.
  • On the subject of abiraterone, a trial presented at ASCO suggested that the drug, which is currently only licensed for men who’ve already had chemotherapy, might be effective at an earlier stage of prostate cancer (here’s the ICR’s press release). But the study wasn’t without its critics – this post on the Xconomy website explains some of the controversy.
  • A new drug called trametinib slows tumour growth and lengthens the lives of patients with advanced melanoma caused by a fault in a gene called BRAF. These encouraging results are hot on the heels of recent news that a drug called dabrafenib could treat melanoma that has spread to the brain. After years with little to shout about, it seems there is a growing number of drugs for a disease that was once nearly untreatable. This New York Times article discusses the latest research.
  • As well as all the excitement over new treatments at ASCO, we also spotted stories about research into the herbal remedy ginseng – specifically that it might be able to help with cancer-related fatigue. We asked Liz Woolf, who runs our patient information website, CancerHelp UK, for her thoughts on the study. You can read them here. Top line? Always talk to your doctor before using complementary medicines, as some of them can interfere with treatment.
  • Our roving reporter at ASCO also summarised some of the other interesting research and discussions that caught her eye in her final report from the conference – topics ranging from the global cost of cancer, to talking to cancer patients on Facebook.
  • ASCO have published a newsletter summarising the main news for patients from the conference – it’s worth reading.

Other news this week

  • A new drug called vismodegib was hailed as the “greatest advance” for basal cell skin cancer (BCC) this week – here’s our news story. BCC is the most common type of skin cancer, and three research papers published on Wednesday show that vismodegib can treat and prevent these tumours, even those that have spread to other parts of the body. We’re extremely excited about this work, as our lab research in the 1990s underpinned the drug’s development – read this post for more info.
  • Repeated CT scans during childhood can increase the risk of developing brain tumours or leukaemia in later life, research published on Thursday suggests. As we pointed out in our coverage, the overall absolute risk of people developing cancer after receiving CT scans is small – amounting to two extra cases of cancer per 10,000 children who received CT scans. NHS Choices also wrote a nice analysis of the research.
  • Our Drug Development Office joined forces with academia and industry this week to open a clinical trial to test an experimental drug called AZD4547 in combination with standard chemotherapy for patients with advanced stomach or oesophageal cancer (press release). There are very few treatment options for advanced forms of these diseases and there’s an urgent need to develop new therapies – we hope this could be a step towards improving survival from these disease.

And finally….