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Sanofi drug adds to survival in head, neck cancer

Written by: Staff

ATLANTA, June 5 (Reuters) Adding the Sanofi-Aventis drug Taxotere to a two-drug chemotherapy combination raised the odds of surviving advanced head and neck cancer, US researchers have said.

A company-sponsored study of more than 500 patients found 62 per cent who received the Taxotere regimen were alive after three years, compared with 48 per cent who got just the two-drug chemotherapy without Taxotere.

The lead researcher said he considered the patients who were alive at that time to be cured of the disease because most relapses occur within one to two years of treatment.

''It's a pretty big improvement we're talking about, a 30 per cent reduction in mortality,'' Dr Marshall Posner, director of head and neck oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told reporters.

The findings were released at an annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, yesterday.

Taxotere was Sanofi's third best-selling drug in 2005 with sales of 2.07 billion dollars (1.609 billion euros).

Also known by the generic name docetaxel, Taxotere is approved for treating breast, lung and prostate cancers.

Doctors can use it for head and neck cancer since it already is on the market. Sanofi has applied for US approval for that use, which would allow promoting it for that purpose.

The Taxotere regimen was given as part of an ''induction'' phase over nine weeks, followed by seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation to shrink tumors further. Some patients also had surgery to remove remaining cancerous tissue.

Almost 40,000 head and neck cancers will be diagnosed in the United States in 2006, according to American Cancer Society estimates. About 7,400 deaths from the disease are projected.

The patients in the study had squamous cell carcinomas, which represent about 90 percent of head and neck cancers.

Tumors were located in the larynx, the back of the throat, the tongue, palate or jaw.

The chemotherapy drugs used during the induction phase were cisplatin and 5-fluorouracil.

Side effects during chemotherapy included mouth sores, nausea and vomiting. Rates were similar among patients who received Taxotere and the others who did not.

Researchers now are interested in adding another drug such as ImClone Systems Inc's and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Erbitux to see if they can improve the treatment, Posner said. Erbitux is one of a number of new targeted therapies that aim directly at cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.


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