A kidney cancer pill that offers new hope to NHS patients has ushered in a “new era” of treatment, an expert said today.
Latest results from trials of the drug, sunitinib, show that it extends the lives of patients with advanced kidney cancer by more than two years.
The drug, which only became widely available on the NHS this year, was found to be far more effective than traditional treatment in a typical clinical setting. While official guidance recommending the use of the life-prolonging drug for kidney cancer patients has not been implemented in Northern Ireland yet, it is available to patients here who have been benefiting from it.
There are around 180 new cases of kidney cancer in Northern Ireland every year, with more men suffering than women. Around 90 deaths here are attributed to this form of cancer every year.
Kidney cancer is diagnosed in more than 7,000 people in the UK each year and can be hard to treat. The disease causes about 3,600 deaths per year.
Until recently NHS treatment options for metastatic, or spreading, kidney cancer were mostly confined to interferon-alpha (IFN alpha).
But the injected drug, which affects the immune system, has serious side effects including fatigue, nausea and increased numbers of infections. New research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology compared the life expectancy of patients on sunitinib and interferon-alpha.
Survival for sunitinib patients given no further treatment after they stopped taking the drug was 28.1 months compared with 14.1 months for those on interferon-alpha (IFN alpha).
This reflects real clinical practice, where generally patients only qualify for one line of NHS treatment.
Professor John Wagstaff from South Wales Cancer Institute in Swansea, whose patients took part in the trial, said: “These data herald a new era in the treatment of metastatic kidney cancer in this country and throughout the world.
“With the dawn of new life-extending treatments such as sunitinib, we are now able to give patients with this difficult-to-treat cancer more hope for the future.”
The international Phase III trial, led by Dr Robert Motzer, from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, involved 750 patients with advanced kidney cancer.
Sunitinib, marketed as Sutent, is a multi-targeted drug that both stops cancer cells proliferating and cuts off their blood supply. Before new guidelines on its use were issued in March, only a third of local NHS health providers were funding the drug.