Women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had stopped responding or failed to respond to other treatments lived 2 months longer when treated with Halavan (chemical name: eribulin) compared to women who got supportive care or a standard metastatic cancer treatment. Halavan is a chemotherapy medicine.
The research is published in the journal The Lancet.
In November 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved using Halavan to treat metastatic breast cancer after the cancer has been treated with two standard chemotherapy medicines: an anthracycline and a taxane.
Metastatic breast cancer is advanced-stage cancer that has spread to parts of the body away from the breast -- the bones, liver, or brain for example. Adriamycin (chemical name: doxorubicin) and Ellence (chemical name: epirubicin) are anthracyclines. Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel), Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel), and Abraxane (chemical name: albumin-bound or nab-paclitaxel) are taxanes.
Halavan is made from a sea sponge. Like some other chemotherapy medicines, Halavan works by interfering with microtubulin, a component of cells. When both healthy and cancer cells divide, microtubulin acts as a building block for the structures that make sure the cell reproduces. Microtubulin also helps sort genetic material in the cell during cell division. So interfering with microtubulin can disrupt cell division and make cancer cells die. Halavan is classified as a microtubule inhibitor.
The EMBRACE trial included 762 women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. All the women had been treated previously with two to five other chemotherapy medicines. Some of the women also had received hormonal therapy or a targeted therapy medicine.
The women were split into three groups; each group got one of three treatments:
- a standard metastatic breast cancer treatment (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or targeted therapy) selected by the women's doctors
- supportive care
Compared to women who got a standard metastatic breast cancer treatment or supportive care, women treated with Halavan:
- were more likely to respond to treatment
- lived longer without the cancer growing (progression-free survival)
- lived longer overall (overall survival)
Women who got Halavan lived about 13 months. Women who got a standard metastatic breast cancer treatment or supportive care lived about 10.6 months.
Better overall survival is important because several other new treatments for metastatic breast cancer have improved progression-free survival, but not overall survival.
The EMBRACE study also found that Halavan could be effective against metastatic breast cancer with various characteristics:
- hormone-receptor-positive or hormone-receptor-negative
- HER2-positive or HER2-negative
- in one or more location in a part of the body away from the breast
- in the liver, lung, brain, or bones
- previously treated or not with the chemotherapy medicine Xeloda (chemical name: capecitabine)
The side effects of Halavan are similar to the side effects of other chemotherapy medicines, including:
- weakness and weight loss (asthenia)
- hair loss
- neuropathy (tingling or numbness in the hands and feet)
- low white blood cell counts
In the EMBRACE study, about 25% of women who got Halavan had to lower the dose or stop treatment because of serious side effects; 5% of the women stopped treatment because of severe neuropathy.
If you're being treated for advanced-stage breast cancer, you and your doctor may be considering a number of treatment options, especially if the cancer has stopped responding to standard treatments. You may want to ask your doctor about Halavan and whether it might be a good treatment option for you based on your unique situation.