UCLA

Eureka!

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Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM


06. Cancer Killer

What: Herceptin

Who: Oncologist Dennis Slamon

Impact: Slamon and his colleagues at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center conducted the laboratory and clinical research that led to the 1988 development of the drug Herceptin, which targets a specific genetic alteration found in about 25 percent of breast cancer patients — and proved that a drug could be designed to attack the disease by targeting defective genes in a cancer cell. The breakthrough discovery not only gave hope to the 250,000 women worldwide who have the specific, aggressive form of the disease that Slamon linked with the mutation, it also paved the way for a whole new arsenal of targeted therapies that are being developed today to treat cancer. The FDA is expected to soon approve use of the drug for early-stage breast cancer as well. For his efforts, Slamon won the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor in 2004.

Eureka moment: Despite the doubts of many who thought his approach was a nonstarter, Slamon knew he was on to something a lot bigger than treating just one particular form of cancer. "It validated the concept that if we identify what's broken specifically and target it specifically, we can develop more therapies that are less toxic and more effective," he says.

— Cynthia Lee

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