The experimental treatment, called T-DM1, is a harbinger of a new class of cancer drugs that may be more effective and less toxic than many existing treatments. By harnessing antibodies to deliver toxic payloads to cancer cells, while largely sparing healthy cells, the drugs are a step toward the “magic bullets” against cancer first envisioned by Paul Ehrlich, a German Nobel laureate, about 100 years ago
One such drug, Adcetris, developed by Seattle Genetics, was approved last August to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and another rare cancer. T-DM1, developed by Genentech, could reach the market next year. Data from a large clinical trial of T-DM1 is expected to attract attention at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology this weekend in Chicago.
Numerous other companies, from pharmaceutical giants to tiny start-ups, are pursuing the treatments, which are known variously as antibody-drug conjugates, armed antibodies or empowered antibodies.