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Drug Helps Fight Late-Stage Colon Cancer in Some Patients
Date:11/14/2007

Cetuximab is first to extend survival for those resistant to chemotherapy, study says

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- A highly targeted biologic drug called cetuximab (Erbitux) is the first to extend the survival of patients with advanced colon cancer who have otherwise proved resistant to conventional chemotherapy, Canadian researchers confirmed.

But the drug, which costs $12,000 a month in the United States, appears to be effective in only about one-third of colon tumors, based on their specific gene profile, experts added.

"That's a significant number, but it still leaves a large proportion [of patients] who aren't benefiting," noted lead researcher Dr. Derek Jonker, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa and a medical oncologist at the Ottawa Hospital.

Nevertheless, the success of any new drug is welcome, he added.

"Until now, no anticancer therapy had demonstrated an improvement in survival in patients for whom chemotherapy was no longer effective, and for whom supportive care was the only available treatment," Jonker said. "So, cetuximab provides new hope for these patients."

The findings were reported in the Nov. 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute of Canada, as well as ImClone Systems and Bristol-Myers Squibb, the two companies that developed the drug.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common kind of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. As Jonker explained, most patients are treated with either surgery or conventional chemotherapy, which typically targets cellular DNA.

Unfortunately, almost all patients with advanced or metastasized colon cancer will develop resistance to standard chemotherapy drugs, he said.

"However, now we have a new class of drugs known as the biologically targeted therapies, such as cetuximab, an
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