Everolimus, marketed by Novartis under the brand name Afinitor, is intended
for post-menopausal women whose cancers have developed resistance to
It works by targeting other proteins in cancer cell, which control how it
works and grows.
The drug is so recent that trial results, comparing 485 women given the drug
and 239 given a dummy pill, are still coming out. However, after 18 months
the differences are already marked.
Among those given a dummy pill and exemestane, which helps prevent oestrogen
uptake, tumour growth was stalled by 3.2 months on average. But among those
given everolimus and exemestane, it was 7.8 months.
Professor Stephen Johnston of The Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said the
impact was so large that it was “changing the natural history of the
He described everolimus as potentially the most significant breakthough for
advanced breast cancer since the discovery of drugs that lower oestrogen
levels, in the mid 1990s.
Estimating it could help up to 8,000 women a year, he said: “Everolimus
has the potential to redefine the way this common form of advanced breast
cancer is treated, and importantly offers women an effective alternative to
a chemotherapy regime”.
There are possible side effects, notably inflammation of mouth tissue, rash,
tiredness and diarrhoea.
But Dr Rachel Greig, of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the drug
was an exciting development.
She said: “Everolimus is one of the biggest advances in breast cancer
treatment in many years.
“This drug could make a massive difference to thousands of patients with
advanced breast cancer.
“While this is by no means a cure, it could give patients several extra months
of good quality of life with their families.
“Everolimus needs to be assessed by Nice but we are strongly backing it to be
made available for those who need it.”