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How AstraZeneca's Enhertu Improves the Survival of Breast Cancer Patients

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Mar 19, 2023

How AstraZeneca's Enhertu Improves the Survival of Breast Cancer Patients

Many people only know AstraZeneca as one of the pharmaceutical giants that produced a COVID-19 vaccine in a short period. However, the company is working on other drugs, too. In fact, their breast cancer drug, Enhertu, showed excellent potential in recent trials. Here’s how Enhertu can help patients fight one of the most common cancers in the Philippines. 

What Is Enhertu?

ENHERTU® (trastuzumab deruxtecan) demonstrated a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in both progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) in patients with HER2 low unresectable and/or metastatic breast cancer regardless of hormone receptor (HR) status versus physician’s choice of chemotherapy, which is the current standard of care.

Enhertu is an antibody drug conjugate (ADC), a type of engineered antibody capable of binding to tumor cells and killing them with chemicals. The drug is HER2-directed, which means it might improve the outcomes for HER2-positive patients with metastatic breast cancer or recurrent cancer within 6 months post treatment. 

When a breast cancer patient is HER2-positive, that means the doctors found human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a type of protein that promotes cancer cell growth. 

How Does Enhertu Work?

AstraZeneca’s Enhertu has three main components:

  • Fam-trastuzumab is the part that attaches to the HER2 receptor, preventing it from receiving growth signals. 
  • A topoisomerase I inhibitor is the chemotherapeutic component that is delivered and it inhibits replication of the cancer cells. 
  • A compound that links the two. 

Doctors recommend Enhertu to HER2-positive patients whose tumors cannot be surgically removed and those with metastatic cancer (cancer that has already spread to other parts of the body). 

Recent Studies Show the Drug Prolongs Survival and Slow Tumor Growth

Studies have long shown that Enhertu can improve outcomes for women with high levels of HER2 proteins. But, what’s even more promising is that the study shows that the drug can also help breast cancer patients with low HER2 levels. Reports say these patients are among the “unaddressed patient pool.”

Recent study likewise reveals that Enhertu can prolong survival and slow tumor progression. 

Moreover, while the study focused on participants who already received three or four therapies, future investigations would center on early-stage cancer. 

Worried about breast cancer? Try our screener:

Herceptin vs Enhertu

AstraZeneca’s ADC may show great potential, but it’s not yet as widely known as Herceptin. 

Herceptin contains trastuzumab, which is similar to one of the components of Enhertu. It works by blocking the HER2 protein, allowing the natural immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. 

Unlike Enhertu, Herceptin doesn’t release chemotherapeutic drugs

Given the difference in components, Enhertu might be more expensive than Herceptin. 

It’s also worth noting that Enhertu is comparable with Kadcyla, a similar drug consisting of Herceptin and a chemotherapy medicine. Kadcyla and Herceptin are both under Roche, the “world’s biggest cancer drug maker.”

Improving Breast Cancer Survival Should Be a Holistic Approach

Experts emphasize that breast cancer prognosis and survival depend on multiple factors. 

It’s crucial to work closely with your doctor not just for the medicines you need to take, but also for the lifestyle changes you need to make. 

Along with the drugs, the doctor might ask you to change your diet to better manage your weight. Some reports associate weight gain with breast cancer death. 

And since exercise is also important, the doctor may recommend appropriate activities that will keep you healthy while undergoing treatment. 

The physician will also address concerns over alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, vitamin supplementation, and stress management. 

Key Takeaways


  • Recent data on AstraZeneca’s Enhertu showed that it can help improve outcomes on HER2-low breast cancer patients by slowing tumor growth and improving survival. 
  • The findings are significant because HER2-low breast cancer patients are a part of the “unaddressed patient pool.” This is evidenced by the participants who have already exhausted 3 to 4 therapies. 
  • The drug, which is an antibody drug conjugate, combines a medicine that blocks HER2 protein and a chemotherapy medicine that inhibits replication of cancer cells. 
  • Enhertu is comparable to Kadcyla (by Roche), which combines Herceptin and another chemotherapy drug.

Learn more about Breast Cancer here

Disclaimer

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD

Pediatrics


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Mar 19, 2023

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