A new drug rescues patients suffering potentially fatal liver complications from cancer therapy. Generally high doses of chemotherapy are given before a stem cell transplant such as a bone marrow transplant is used for cancer treatment. But chemotherapy causes five to 50 per cent of such patients to experience a potentially fatal complication called veno-occlusive disease (VOD), which damages circulation in the liver.
In this trial, headed by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the US, a group of 80 patients with severe VOD received a new drug. Defibrotide is extracted from pig intestinal tissue. Around a third of the patients experienced complete reversal of VOD and 35 per cent of them survived for at least 100 days after their transplant.
This is important for only 10 per cent of this desperately ill group would be able to survive this long with usual care. The standard treatment for VOD is clot-busting drugs, which have been linked with severe bleeding and are ineffective once the patient has multiple organ failure.