Recent research suggests that a powerful new drug has been extending the lives of patients with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The drug, Perjeta, has mostly been used in tandem with another drug, Herceptin, and chemotherapy. It is being offered as a replacement for drugs that will soon lose their trademark status and be open for generic competition.

The study was presented by Swiss drug company Roche at a meeting of the European Society of Medical Oncology in Madrid. In the last year, Perjeta has been turned down for mass use due to a lack of evidence of its overall impact on survival. The recent research shows a much fuller picture of its effects.

For patients with the type of breast cancer in which cancer cells have very high levels of the protein HER2, when Perjeta is used with the more commonly prescribed Herceptin, as well as chemotherapy, researchers found that life expectancies were extended by nearly 16 months. Those who were given just the Herceptin and chemotherapy tended to survive another 41 months and those with the added Perjeta lived more than 56 months longer.

According to lead study author Dr. Sandra Swain, from Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, “The survival improvement of nearly 16 months observed in [the study] is unprecedented among studies of metastatic breast cancer.”

Both of the drugs are derived from organisms and work by blocking the HER2 protein linked to the aggressive cancer. This means they are only useful in HER2 specific cases, but now that doctors have seen what the two drugs can do together to help their HER2 patients, they are more determined to combine the drugs to improve overall survival.

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