RESEARCHERS in the North-East have made a major breakthrough in the treatment of breast cancer.

The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle was one of a small number of centres around the world to test a new drug, which has been proven to delay the effects of the disease for longer than current treatments.

The study has shown the drug, T-DM1, significantly reduces the side effects of chemotherapy.

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Further trials are underway, but the discovery is being hailed as a major step forward.

Dr Mark Verrill, consultant medical oncologist at the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the study specifically looked at an advanced form of the disease known as HER2-positive.

He said: “For the first time in breast cancer, we have been able to significantly extend patients’ remission time, while also reducing the side effects associated with chemotherapy.

“This is an exciting development because HER2-positive breast cancer is very aggressive.

“Once it reaches the advanced stage it becomes difficult to treat and there is a real need for effective new treatments, like T-DM1, to improve the outlook for women with this aggressive disease.'

T-DM1 is an 'antibody-drug conjugate', which is the first medicine of its kind for breast cancer.

It joins together the accuracy of the HER2-targeted antibody, called Herceptin, with the power of the chemotherapy agent, DM1, as a single therapy.

T-DM1 has been designed to find and destroy only the cancerous cells in a two-stage attack.

The drug attaches to the cancer growth and stops it from spreading then penetrates the cell’s outer defences and releases a high dose of chemotherapy to destroy it.

Breast cancer survivor, Joanne Smith, 41, from Whickham, Gateshead, said: “Anything that helps people beat breast cancer is going to be good news and is very welcome.

“It’s lovely that advances are being made and it’s especially lovely that the North-East has played a part in it.”

The drug is not yet available for use, but based on the study’s results, a licence application will be made for its approval in the UK and Europe.

Following authorisation from the European Medicines Agency, T-DM1 could be made available to patients in the UK in less than a year.