Steve Jobs might benefit from new cancer drugs

When Steve Jobs began another medical leave last week, Apple didn't release any details about its CEO's health. But that hasn't stopped observers from conjecturing. Bloomberg takes a close look at treatments Jobs might be offered if his neuroendocrine cancer is back. "[T]here have been advances that might be applicable to his case," Cleveland Clinic's John Fung told the news service. "If he has a recurrence, it isn't the end of the world."

Two FDA-approved options that are new since Jobs' 2004 medical leave include Pfizer's Sutent, which won the agency's nod in 2006 for gastrointestinal stromal tumors and kidney cancer; it's approved in Europe for neuroendocrine tumors. And Novartis' Afinitor, approved for kidney cancer in 2009 (and used at lower dosages to prevent transplant rejection); it performed well against neuroendocrine cancer in a recent study.

Then there are some drug combos now in testing. Researchers at Stanford are looking at a three-drug cocktail composed of Roche's Avastin and Xeloda, plus the standard chemo drug oxaliplatin. It's a small study--only 40 patients--but over the past five years, 60 percent have seen tumor growth slow down and 20 percent saw tumors actually shrink. Then there's an experimental combo of Roche's Tarceva with its experimental monoclonal antibody treatment pertuzumab, but only four patients have been treated so far.

Of course, individual people respond to cancer drugs quite differently; in one of the studies Bloomberg cites, the range of progression-free survival with neuroendocrine cancer ran from 23 months to 10 years, yielding a median survival of 38 months. Sutent doubled progression-free survival by 11.4 months on average, according to a new study, while Afinitor data showed a median of 11 months with no tumor growth. Jobs could be on the low end, the high end, or right in the middle. As Bloomberg notes, he's already beat the odds by surviving since 2004. If his cancer has recurred, he might just beat the odds again.

- read the Bloomberg story