Oesophageal cancer development could be biggest breakthrough in 30 years

A breakthrough in the treatment of oesophageal cancer could be the biggest in 30 years, Melbourne cancer researchers say.

Researchers from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have taken a drug developed in Sweden to fight ovarian cancer, and applied it to oesophageal cancer.

Professor Wayne Phillips said testing showed the treatment stopped the growth of tumours and increased the impact of chemotherapy.

“What we’ve found is that it synergises with the effects of chemotherapy, so if you add chemotherapy to the tumours, you find a decrease in the tumour growth,” he said.

“If you add the drug by itself, you get a decrease, but if you put the too together, we seem to get more than additive effects in blocking the tumour growth.”

Clinical trials could begin as early as next year, as it could be added to existing therapies, as an extra.

Oesophageal cancer affects around 1,450 Australians each year, according to the Cancer Council.

Professor Phillips said the development was very promising.

“The basic treatment that we use for oesophageal cancer hasn’t changed much over the last 30-odd years,” he said.

“This is a completely new approach that we hope will have good efficacy.”

He said the drug had already been tested for toxicity in Sweden, and it appeared to be safe for patients.

He said the treatment attacked a mutant gene also found in other cancers.

“What this drug does is it targets a gene called P53 — and specifically mutant P53 — which means that first of all it should only attack tumour cells that have the mutation,

“But these P53 mutations are wide spread in many cancers, so about 80 per cent of oesophageal cancers will have P53 mutations, and certain sub-types of ovarian cancers also have very high P53 rates.

“But a lot of other tumours also have high P53 mutation rates and those tumours also would presumably be able to be targeted with this drug.