A British woman has become the first in the world to be given a revolutionary breast cancer treatment.
Anna Jones, 65, who is terminally ill, has been given a breakthrough combination of immunotherapy drugs that doctors hope will extend her life.
Experts at The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester believe the treatment – which operates in a twin attack against tumour cells – could help women for whom no other drugs work.
Mrs Jones, a grandmother of two from Rochdale, has been fighting the disease for more than a decade. She has previously tried ten different treatments, including several rounds of chemotherapy.
Anna Jones, 65, pictured, who is terminally ill has trialed been given a breakthrough combination of immunotherapy drugs that doctors hope will extend her life.
But each drug has failed and she is now pinning her hopes on the therapy – a combination of established immunotherapy drug Herceptin and a second drug so new it is only known by the code name R06874281.
Mrs Jones, who has been taking the treatment for six weeks, said: ‘Fingers crossed that it’s a wonder drug – I would be over the moon, not just for myself but for other women as well.
‘Of course it is scary being number one – they don’t know what the side effects are because nobody has tried it before. But it is exciting.’
Mrs Jones, who worked for the NHS before she retired, has been fighting advanced breast cancer since she was diagnosed in August 2004.
Anna Jones, pictured, has received a combination of established immunotherapy drug Herceptin and a second drug so new it is only known by the code name R06874281
She was told she had the particularly aggressive HER2-positive form of the disease, which is responsible for 13,000 new cases in the UK each year.
‘When they found it the cancer had already spread to the lungs, the liver and the bones,’ she said.
‘It is a death sentence – but every day I am thankful to have got this far. I have seen things I never thought I would see, I have seen my granddaughter go to her first prom, to buy her first car.’
She added: ‘The treatment has been a battle but I have stayed positive all the way.
‘I have lost my hair several times with the chemotherapy. And I have taken lots of different types of hormone therapy.’
Taking part in a clinical trial is also a major commitment – she has to travel into Manchester every week to receive the combination treatment, which is delivered via a drip over four hours.
She then stays overnight so doctors can monitor her. But Mrs Jones, who lives with husband David, 66, views it as a privilege.
Anna Jones and her husband David, pictured, have been fighting her battle with breast cancer for nearly a decade and hope the new treatment will extend her life
She said: ‘It is wonderful to know that other people will potentially benefit in the future from this research. It would be a good legacy to leave. I feel very privileged to know that I’m the first person in the world to have been given this new combination.’
Roche, the company which makes the drug, has agreed to keep Mrs Jones on the treatment for at least two years as long as she continues to benefit from it.
Her doctors expect to know in the New Year if she is responding.
The combination treatment is designed to work on two fronts – by boosting the immune system’s ability to attack while simultaneously taking down the cancer’s defences.
The RO6874281 drug introduces a potent version of the Interleukin 2 protein into the bloodstream, which stimulates the body’s immune system to kill rogue cells.
It is taken at the same time as Herceptin, which binds onto the cancer cells to make tumours visible to the immune system.
Around 60 people will eventually take part in the global study, including patients in the UK being treated at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Barts Health NHS Trust and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
RO6874281 has previously been taken by a small number of patients in a safety trial. However, this is the first time it has been combined with Herceptin.
Professor Andrew Wardley, from The Christie hospital, said: ‘This is an exciting and very novel form of therapy especially for breast cancer and I’m delighted that our patient Anna will be the first to hopefully benefit from this treatment.
‘We believe that the two drugs working together will be more effective at targeting the cancer and stimulating the body’s immune system to kill the cancer cells.’ The HER2-positive form of the disease is responsible for about one in five of all cases and tumours are notoriously fast growing and difficult to treat.
Breast cancer is Britain’s most common female cancer, with more than 55,000 new cases and 11,000 deaths every year according to the most recent figures.
The number is rising steadily due to the ageing population and lifestyle factors such as obesity.
A study last week found that women who lose half a stone significantly reduce their odds of developing breast cancer.
US researchers said even ‘relatively modest’ weight loss has a considerable effect. Losing two stone or more cuts the chances of developing breast cancer by a third.