DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A new drug for metastatic breast cancer just earned approval from the FDA, and it all started in a cancer research lab at Duke.
Sarah O’Donnell doesn’t let cancer get in the way of living her life.
“You’ve just got to plug on, move forward,” she said.
But her path hasn’t been easy. Doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer in late 2016. Her initial treatment kept her cancer free for about a year — then it came back and spread.
“Now it’s in my lungs, my liver, my bones, my spine, and seven months ago I was diagnosed with 23 brain tumors,” she said while receiving treatment in Durham.
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Over the course of her illness, treatments would work for a short time, but her body would eventually start to resist them. When she got the chance to take part in a study involving an experimental drug, she didn’t hesitate.
“I told my family and friends, ‘It’s my only option, at the very least it will help somebody else,'” she recalled.
Every day she takes a pill called elacestrant, which is now known as “Orserdu.”
“It’s the first new endocrine therapy for metastatic breast cancer in over 20 years and it really was a long haul,” explained Donald McDonnell Ph.D., a professor of cancer biology and pharmacology at Duke School of Medicine.
More than 10 years ago, McDonnell says his lab at Duke discovered that the drug had the potential to treat patients with certain types of breast cancer that had spread.
“It’s for women who have failed the first line of endocrine therapy who are now looking for a second endocrine therapy,” he explained.
It took a decade to get the drug developed and tested but on Jan. 27, the FDA approved it.
“I was talking to some physicians, and they’re already writing prescriptions for it,” noted McDonnell.
The drug is given as a pill, which O’Donnell says is much more convenient than most drugs that treat cancer.
“You can carry it with you, so you don’t have to stop your life,” she said.
But, the drug is not a cure.
“I wish I could tell you it was going to cure cancer; I cannot tell you that,” said McDonnell. “This drug basically stops metastatic cancer from progressing.”
O’Donnell said some of her tumors have actually shrunk since she started taking the drug. She’s grateful she’s can focus on the things she enjoys, and she hopes the drug helps others with cancer do the same.
“We can’t control when we die, but at least I can say, ‘Hey, I helped with this drug,” she said. “Plus side: it’s actually working.”