Aussie drug melting cancer cells approved for human use in U.S.

MELBOURNE — A tablet developed in Melbourne that “melts away” cancer cells has been approved for use in the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Tuesday that venetoclax was approved for prescription outside of human trials for patients with chronic lymphotic leukemia (CLL).

Venetoclax, which overwhelms the BCL-2 protein that is vital to cancer cell survival, was developed in Melbourne in the 1980s after researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) discovered the importance of BCL-2.

WEHI’s head of clinical translation, Professor Andrew Roberts, said that 80 of 116 participants in a human trial of the drug in Melbourne have displayed a positive response.

“Most of the patients had failed to be controlled by all the other treatments we had available. This was a last line option for them,” Roberts told News Limited on Tuesday.

“It truly does lead to the disease melting away in 20 percent of people.”

Vic Blackwood, a 68-year old participant in a ventoclax trial for two years at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said he had exhausted all his options for treating CLL before being admitted to the trial.

“They said if we don’t do anything you’ve got three weeks to live,” Blackwood told News Limited. “I was so weak, I was in bed for 20 hours a day.”

Blackwood had cancerous lumps the size of golf balls in the lymph nodes in his neck and those the size of grapefruits under his arms but is now cancer-free.

“The change in me has been more dramatic than in anyone else. I can do anything now. It saved my life,” he said.

Roberts said that while it was “highly likely” Australia would follow the the United States in approving the drug, the treatment would require government subsidies to increase access to the drug which costs 100,000 U.S. dollars per year in the United States. PNA/Xinhua/