A ‘remarkable’ round of recent breakthroughs in cancer research have sparked a “real buzz” in the field, according to Prof Luke O’Neill.
The Trinity professor is in Canada this week, at the second of two conferences that have seen thrilling breakthroughs in the treatment of range of cancers, including lung, breast and ovarian.
“It’s remarkable,” he told Pat Kenny.
“I’ve never seen the like of it to be honest. All the talk is of these breakthroughs … there is a real buzz at the moment about all these latest findings.”
He said a lung cancer treatment that appears to cut the risk of death in half has been hailed as “thrilling” by doctors.
“You don’t normally hear doctors use those sorts of words,” he said.
“This drug cut the risk of dying by half. These are people who are diagnosed, have surgery and then they are given the drug.
“They are basically cutting the death rate in those people by half because some will still progress.
“The overall five-year survival rate now is 88% - which is very high as well.
“So, it is seen as a real breakthrough because lung cancer as you know is one of the trickier ones to treat so it is being hailed now as the first big advance in a long time really.”
The study found that taking the drug Osimertinib once a day after surgery reduced the risk of death by 51%.
The results came from a ten-year study involving thousands of people in 26 countries.
The drug is already available on the Irish market.
Prof O’Neill warned that the treatment only works for patients suffering from a mutation of the EGFR gene – which accounts for about one-quarter of all lung cancer patients.
The EGFR mutation is most common in women and in people who have never smoked or have been light smokers.
“Interestingly it is the ones who don’t smoke or who are light smokers are the ones that are being treated,” he said. “So, the message is stop smoking anyway; it doesn’t really work in smokers.
“It’s only the non-smokers or the light smokers it works for.
“But even still, it is seen as a big breakthrough because many people still get lung cancer even if you don’t smoke or only smoke lightly.
“It is not as if one size fits all in cancers. There are subsets of cancer within each type of cancer and if you can stratify it to specific groups then you see a big effect.
“This 51% decrease in risk of dying, you can imagine how much a thrill that has caused.”
Prof O’Neill also discussed big breakthroughs in breast and ovarian cancers.