Duke Medicine recently published an article announcing that a new cancer treatment, which links chemotherapy with an agent that homes in on specific breast cancer cells, was significantly better than the current drug regimen at keeping patients’ advanced tumors from progressing. This is according to results from a Phase III clinical trial led by Kimberly Blackwell, M.D., of the Duke Cancer Institute. Participants with invasive breast cancer who took the investigational drug, called trastuzumab emtansine, or T-DM1, also had fewer and less harsh side effects than study participants who received a standard treatment.

The findings were reported Sunday, June 3 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago, and will form the basis for Genentech, the drug’s manufacturer, to seek marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Genentech and its parent company, Roche funded the clinical trial.

“This drug is significantly better than the current approved combination in keeping the cancer under control,” said Blackwell, director of the Breast Cancer Clinical Program at Duke and principal investigator of the international study. “This is a drug that brings us another step closer to treating cancer without the side effects of chemotherapy. It’s going to be a good option for patients faced with HER-2 positive tumors.”

Nearly 1,000 people with advanced breast cancer were enrolled during the three-year study. All the participants had a form of aggressive breast cancer distinguished by elevated levels of a protein known as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER-2. The protein promotes the growth of cancer cells, and plays a role in about 20 percent of invasive breast cancers.

The new drug also caused fewer side effects. “This is a more targeted way of delivering chemotherapy to HER-2 overexpressed cells,” Blackwell said. “It delivers the drug directly to the cancer cells, while avoiding cells that don’t really need to receive chemotherapy, which keeps patients from getting sick.”

“As a clinician who takes care of breast cancer patients, it’s important to have a treatment that is both effective and well tolerated,” Blackwell said. “This drug has very little dose-limiting toxicity. That is in stark contrast to so many of the treatments we have available today. This drug works.”

To read the full article from Duke Medicine click here.

Dr. Kimberly BlackwellAbout Dr. Blackwell:

Kimberly L. Blackwell, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, USA. She is the Director of the Breast Cancer Program in the Duke Cancer Institute where she oversees all basic and translational research programs involving breast cancer patients. She serves on the national Scientific Advisory Board of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

She received her undergraduate degree at Duke University in Bioethics, and her medical degree at Mayo Clinic Medical School. Afterwards, Dr. Blackwell completed an internal medicine internship and residency and a hematology-oncology fellowship at Duke University Medical School. She is board certified in medical oncology.

Dr. Blackwell has clinical and research interests in breast cancer angiogenesis, breast cancer in younger women, endocrine therapy, and HER2 targeted therapy for breast cancer. She maintains an active clinical practice of over 500 patients and has served as the PI or co-PI on over 50 clinical trials in breast cancer. She is a past recipient of the Duke University Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in breast cancer Young Investigator Award, the Duke Cancer Center Malek Family Award for outstanding cancer investigation, and the Joseph Greenfield Award for Research Mentorship. Dr. Blackwell has authored or co-authored over 40 articles or book chapters appearing in journals such as Clinical Cancer Research, the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer, Radiation Research, and Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.