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Experimental Drug Shows Dramatic Results at Stopping Spread of Breast Cancer

UCLA enrolling patients for Palbociclib, a new drug to treat breast cancer

By Daisy Lin and Dr. Bruce Hensel
|  Tuesday, Dec 3, 2013  |  Updated 2:06 PM PDT
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Janet Klein is among the breast cancer patients trying an experimental drug that is showing dramatic results in stopping the spread of cancer cells without the hair loss, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Researchers at UCLA are enrolling volunteers for a promising new breast cancer drug called Palbociclib. Dr. Bruce Hensel reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 6, 2013.

Dr. Bruce Hensel

Janet Klein is among the breast cancer patients trying an experimental drug that is showing dramatic results in stopping the spread of cancer cells without the hair loss, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Researchers at UCLA are enrolling volunteers for a promising new breast cancer drug called Palbociclib. Dr. Bruce Hensel reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 6, 2013.

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Janet Klein has estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, like 60 percent of women who get breast cancer. Because of her family history, she decided to get a double mastectomy. She thought her fight was over.

“I thought I was completely done, never have to think about it again,” Klein said.

Last year, she found out the cancer was back. And this time, it had spread to her hip bone.

“That was really shocking,” Klein said. “All of a sudden I didn’t know what was going to be on the table for me at that point.”

Then she found out an experimental breast cancer drug that was being tested at UCLA.

The new compound is called Palbociclib, and Dr. Richard Finn, who is studying it at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, said it targets a protein called CDK46 that causes cancer cells to spread.

“We’re essentially putting the brakes on cell proliferation and causing these tumor cells to stop growing,” Dr. Finn said.

In initial tests, Palbociclib helped to stop cancer growth in its tracks.

“The results were really groundbreaking. We saw a dramatic improvement in the time it took for these women’s breast cancers to progress,” Dr. Finn said. “Unlike chemotherapy drugs, which are just generic poisons to cells. This drug is very well-tolerated. It does not cause hair loss; it does not cause nausea and vomiting.”

The FDA was so impressed with these results that they gave it a breakthrough drug designation, which is meant to speed up the approval process so the drug can be available to the public.

Klein got the drug more than three years ago, and it has made a life changing difference for her.

“It’s gone, there’s no evidence of it in the scans,” she said. “I think I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet.”

The drug works on estrogen-receptor-positive cancers, which is the type that a majority of breast cancer patients have. The clinical trial for the drug is still enrolling for study participants.

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