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A Cancer Drug's New Lease on Life

At the ASCO meeting in Chicago in early June, oncologists and scientists heard the latest news on cancer treatments. One medicine in the spotlight was AstraZeneca's (AZN) lung cancer drug Iressa, which was pulled from the market three years ago because it failed to extend survival in clinical trials. It now appears that Iressa may help stave off the recurrence of breast cancer when combined with standard hormone therapy. Iressa targets a growth factor found in a number of tumors, including those that occur in the breast. In a trial at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston involving 93 newly diagnosed women, cancer did not recur in the half that received the Iressa combination for an average of 14.5 months, compared with 8.2 months in the control group. This and other results reported at ASCO could open the door for future Food & Drug Administration approval. AstraZeneca says it's in talks with the agency.

Fighting Fatigue

Most patients on chemotherapy experience fatigue so dire they sometimes stop treatment. The wakefulness drug Provigil, from Cephalon (CEPH), helps the most fatigued patients, say University of Rochester researchers, although it did not ease mild to moderate tiredness.

Longer Lives for Brain Cancer Patients?

Senator Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) brain cancer has focused attention on the disease, which is expected to kill some 12,760 in the U.S. this year. Although surgery is the primary treatment, interest from drugmakers has increased greatly since the mid-1990s when it was first discovered that chemotherapy can extend the lives of some patients.

At the ASCO meeting, early but promising data were presented on Genentech's (DNA) blockbuster, Avastin, and a therapeutic vaccine--both tested on glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer. The vaccine, CDX-11, was developed by Celldex Therapeutics and recently licensed to Pfizer (PFE). It more than doubled survival time, to as much as 30 months, in two small groups of patients.

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