UCLA researchers studying new approach in fight against breast cancer

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The HER2-climb study uses an experimental drug called Tucatinib, along with Herceptin and a chemo drug called Xelod. (KABC)

Researchers at UCLA are studying a new approach in the fight against breast cancer and they are receiving encouraging results.

Dikla Benzeevi has been battling HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer for 16 years. She's tried 14 drugs and seven lines of therapy.

"Therapy seems to work for about one and a half to two years, and then I start having progression or a new metastasis," Benzeevi said.

When Benzeevi was running out of options, her doctor, UCLA oncologist Sara Hurvitz, told her about the HER2-climb study.

It uses an experimental drug called Tucatinib, along with Herceptin and a chemo drug called Xeloda.

"It's a small molecule that gets into the cancer cell," Hurvitz said. "It targets the inside of the HER2 receptor and stops it from functioning on the inside."

Tucatinib is small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, which gives hope to women whose cancer has spread to the brain.

"It's a very unique opportunity for women who have this very high-risk type of metastatic breast cancer to receive a drug that is potentially going to be effective in that type of disease," Hurvitz said.

Dikla has been in the trial for 11 months. She doesn't know if she's getting Tucatinib or a placebo, but tumors in her lungs are staying small.

"At the minimum, I hope that it keeps me stable, it keeps me feeling good, that i can have the kind of life i want to lead and that i can have it for a long time," Benzeevi said.

An early-phase clinical trial showed that more than 40 percent of women saw shrinkage of their breast tumors.

The study, which opened in 2015, continues to enroll patients.
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