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About Herceptin

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About Herceptin

Herceptin, which also known as trastuzumab is a biotechnology drug that can be used to treat a kind of metastatic breast cancer that is called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer (Genentech, 2010). To treat this disease, antibodies are needed. Antibodies are molecules that are produced by the immune system of the body that bind specifically on certain protein of the foreign particles. Herceptin is a type of monoclonal antibody, which means an antibody that is genetically-engineered in laboratory, and this antibody is designed to bind selectively to HER2 receptor or HER2 protein in order to slow down the growth of the cells in the breast. (Starr, 1998). This eventually helps to increase the survival of women who suffered this disease.

HER2-positive breast cancer is due to the malfunction of HER2 receptor. HER2 receptor in the body functions as site for cell signalling. When the HER2 receptor fails to function properly, this causes HER2 protein to be 'overexpressed' and leads to formation of tumour in breast. Herceptin works by binding on HER receptors and blocking signals that make the cancer cells to produce uncontrollably (Genentech, 2010). Besides, Herceptin can also send signals to the immune system of the body to attack cancerous cells (Genentech, 2010).

The process of manufacturing this monoclonal antibody is complex and time-consuming. Firstly, scientists use mammalian cells and amplify the amount of DNA identical to the mammalian cells through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. After a desired amount of cells are produced, the cells are transferred into production containers that allow the cells to secrete out its protein. Then, these proteins that are secreted by the cells are collected and purified. After that, these purified proteins go through testing that may take up months to ensure these purified proteins do not cause health threat to humans (Bay Area Breast Cancer Network, 2008).

Herceptin is developed by a biotech company named Genentech. Genentech gained the approval to manufacture this biotechnology drug for treating metastatic breast cancer from FDA in September 1998. Scientists have proven that Herceptin has an aggressive effect on breast cancer and it is available in hospitals in most countries. Due to the increasing number of breast cancer patients, Herceptin is widely used for breast cancer treatment and this increases the price of the Herceptin in the market. According to the product sales history of Genentech, Herceptin has been on market for approximately 25 years and the annual sales can be up to $10,000 million (Genentech, 2010). Until now, Herceptin has been one of the most expensive biotechnology drugs. One whole course of trastuzumab therapy can costs about US$70,000 (Fleck L, 2006). Although Herceptin has been on market for such a long period, it is still in clinical trials to test



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