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Dr Humaid Al Shamsi delivers the new injection to patient Joanne Resta Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A brand new subcutaneous injection is set to revolutionise treatment for patients battling breast cancer.

The medicine – a combination of the prescription drugs pertuzumab and trastuzumab – can be delivered in a simple five-minute injection, instead of the three to five hours needed to deliver the drugs in the form of an infusion.

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Dr Humaid Al Shamsi shows the new injection to the care team at Burjeel Cancer Institute

First time outside US

Called Phesgo, it has been licensed in the UAE and was offered on a trial basis to a patient last week at the Burjeel Cancer Institute. This represented the first time the injection was delivered outside the United States, Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, director of oncology at Burjeel’s parent company, VPS Healthcare, told Gulf News. The new drug’s delivery coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is marked every October.

Dr Al Shamsi, who is also president of the Emirates Oncology Society, said the quick and easy form of drug delivery will help improve patients’ quality of life, in addition to reducing the costs of treatment. “This form of treatment should be the standard of care for cancer in the near future,” he said.

“Phesgo is also the only medicine of its kind available at present, which is why its availability in the UAE will be a game-changer,” the doctor added.

Breast cancer type

The medicine can be used for patients who have HER2 positive breast cancer, which affects nearly 25 per cent of breast cancer patients. HER2 itself is a gene that produces HER2 proteins, or receptors. When the gene isn’t working properly, it reproduces too many copies, which leads to overexpression of the HER2 protein. This causes uncontrolled breast cell division and the formation of tumors representative of HER2-positive breast cancer.

Dr Al Shamsi said Phesgo can be given in the early stages, as well as for a while in the advanced stages.

Major benefits

“Typically, patients receive this combination of drugs for a year, along with chemotherapy for three to four months. Patients will still have to come in for the chemotherapy, but they can be trained to take the Phesgo injections at home. Even if they come in to the hospital to receive the injections, the shortened treatment time frees up cancer chairs, and reduces insurance costs,” he explained.

In addition, patients with advanced HER2 positive breast cancer also need to take the medicine for life, so this medicine makes treatment delivery much more convenient.

Insurance approval

Dr Al Shamsi said the prescription medicine is pending insurance approval, but as soon as this is received, at least 50 of his patients would qualify to receive Phesgo. He also explained that the injection has no additional side effects, save some minor discomfort at the inject site, compared to when the injections are given as infusions.

‘So convenient’

Joanne Resta, 42, a homemaker from the Philippines, was the first patient in the UAE to receive Phesgo, and she said it would greatly ease her treatment. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2020, and have already finished the chemotherapy prescribed. I have to now do this pertuzumab-trastuzumab targeted therapy for a year, once every three weeks. Every time I have to come in to the hospital for an infusion, it takes me five to six hours, and I also have to find a sitter with whom I can leave my two children, aged four and five. So this new injection sounds wonderful to me. It is so covenient,” Resta said.

Breast cancer is the most commonly detected cancer among women in the UAE, with more than a 1,000 new cases reported every year. It is also the cancer with the second highest rate of mortality in the UAE, after colorectal cancer.