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New drugs trialled to treat the muscle wasting condition associated with advanced cancer

2 March 2012

Phase-III clinical trials have started on two potential treatments for the life-threatening muscle wasting and weight loss often experienced by pancreatic cancer patients.

The condition, known as cachexia, is a common side effect of cancer. Eighty per cent of patients with advanced cancer will experience it, and it is the cause of death in one fifth of these people.  The condition is especially prevalent in lung and pancreatic cancer patients.

Cachexia is characterised by an accelerated loss of skeletal muscle, often accompanied by loss of appetite and altered taste. With the body’s metabolism operating at a higher than normal rate, it also makes chemotherapy less tolerable. Currently there is no treatment for cachexia.

The two new treatments being trialled, enobosarm and anamorelin, were developed separately and work on different pathways. International studies into the safety of both drugs are currently being carried out on patients with non-small cell lung cancer-cachexia.

Enobosarm, developed by the Tennessee based company GTx , acts to stimulates the body’s production of lean body mass. The preceding clinical trial showed that, enobosarm treatment increased total lean muscle mass by 1.4kg compared to placebo, without a prescribed diet or exercise regime.

Anamorelin, developed by the Swiss company Helsinn Therapeutics Inc., mimics the ‘hunger hormone’, gherlin, to stimulate appetite. The drug increases the patient’s food intake and body weight without increasing patients’ risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The anamorelin clinical trial leader, Dr Renato LaRocca Director of the Kentuckiana Cancer Institute in Louisville said: “Helping patients maintain or increase total weight can have a significant impact on their ability to tolerate treatment, and their quality of life.”

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