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Sponge drug 'helps cancer patients'

04 November 2014 11:55

Experts have found that eribulin can extend the lives of women with aggressive forms of breast cancer by several months

Experts have found that eribulin can extend the lives of women with aggressive forms of breast cancer by several months

Giving breast cancer patients a drug made from sea sponges can extend their lives by several months, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Leeds carried out two large-scale trials with more than 1,800 participants who had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

They found that the drug eribulin extended the women's survival by an average of more than two months.

Women who had advanced triple negative breast cancer - an aggressive form of the disease for which there are few treatment options - benefited the most from the drug, with their lifespans increasing by almost five months.

Those with HER2 negative breast cancer lived more than two months longer when given eribulin, it was found.

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, described the results as "encouraging" for those women whose cancers no longer respond to conventional treatments.

He said that eribulin is not a cure but an additional option to extend patients' lives - which could be "priceless" for the women and their families. It may give them the option to spend valuable time with their family and friends, or to embark on a holiday with the security provided by specialist travel insurance for cancer patients.

The drug was originally derived from Halichondria okadai, a sea sponge, although it is now produced in laboratories.

Chris Twelves, professor of clinical cancer pharmacology and oncology at the University of Leeds, said the findings show that eribulin can lead to a "substantial improvement" in women's survival rates.

He pointed out that, while the drug was previously only available for women who had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy, the EU has now also approved it for those who have not received as much treatment.

The findings of the study were presented at the National Cancer Research Institute's cancer conference in Liverpool.