Dr. Dennis Slamon

A new breast cancer drug has the imprint of New Castle native Dr. Dennis Slamon on it.

The drug, Ibrance, was approved this month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Slamon, director of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program and Clinical/Translational Research at the Jonsson Cancer Center in Los Angeles, and colleague Dr. Richard Finn have been conducting clinical drug trials for the drug developed in 2007 by Pfizer Inc.

Their research has shown that Ibrance has the ability to not only stop a particular type of advanced breast cancer tumor growth, extending the time before the cancer worsens, but in some cases, to shrink the tumors.

“With the FDA approval, this study represents a potential practice-changing result,” Slamon said in a news release.

Slamon, a 1966 graduate of New Castle High School, gained national recognition in 1998 when the Food and Drug Administration approved Herceptin, a drug Slamon developed for estrogen positive breast cancer.

He said in a phone interview last week that the impact of Ibrance is likely to be as significant of that of Herceptin, although the two drugs are “very different and work by very different mechanisms and are used for different subtypes of breast cancer.”

However, like most cancer drugs, Slamon said the biggest side effect of Ibrance is its tendency to lower the patient’s white blood cell count, although “not as low and as prolonged as with chemotherapy.

“When it can be used,” he explained, “it’s a better alternative to chemotherapy, with less side effects and a better outcome.”

New Castle resident JoAnn Esposito, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2003, has benefited from Slamon’s research.

Ten years ago, Esposito’s son Brian founded Par for the Cure, a charity that raises funds to benefit Slamon’s research at the Jonsson Cancer Center.

“It’s really exciting,” said Brian Esposito, of the new drug. “We’ve raised over $1 million and in turn, (Slamon) does what he does best and that’s breakthroughs. This is another one of them.”

Brian Esposito, who lives in Las Vegas, said his mother continues to receive treatments in Pittsburgh, but “she is doing great.”

According to Esposito, at least $350,000 of Par for the Cure’s $1 million has been raised in Lawrence County, where Slamon remains connected to family and friends.

“The people in New Castle need to know we’re happy to have a return on their investments in us,” Slamon said. “It’s their support and love that have raised the funds that have led to this,” he said of the new drug.

Though Slamon has been conducting research for more than 40 years, he said it’s the importance of the work that keeps him going, as cancer likely will surpass heart disease as the number-one killer by the end of this decade.

“It’s hard to find a family that hasn’t been affected by cancer,” he said. “When you realize that one in three men and one in three women will get cancer, you get an appreciation for how important the work is.

“But results like these tell you to keep doing it, since you can have this large of an impact and have a therapy that is less toxic and more effective,” Slamon said. “That is certainly worth it.”

(Email: jshelenberger@ncnewsonline.com)

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