A new cancer drug developed in Australia has been given a fast-track approval in the US. The drug, called Venetoclax, is a new-generation drug that targets specific cancer-causing biological factors like cell structure mutations.

Clinical trials conducted at the Maccallum Cancer Center in Victoria, Australia for the Melbourne-developed drug reveal that nearly four out of five participants experienced positive results after receiving it. The cancer of one out of five of the patients went into complete remission.

Robert Oblak, one of the patients chosen to take part in a trial in 2013, says his leukemia went into remission. He likens it to taking Panadol.

He adds that it did not cause any side-effects. Even if it kills cells, Oblak still felt great.

“Cells, when they are born, are destined to die. Cancer cells, particularly leukaemia cells, delay that death by using a protein called BCL2 that stops the normal time of death,” explains John Seymour of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. “Venetoclax works by specifically blocking the action of that BCL2 and allows the cells to die in the way that they were destined to.”

Nevertheless, the drug is not available in Australia. Apparently, the manufacturer AbbVie already applied for its listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) but Australia has a considerably slower approval process than the US, which means that patients in the country cannot have it yet.

In a statement released in August, Marina Konopleva from the Department of Stem Cell Transplantation at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said that Venetoclax will soon be included into the standard-of-care chemotherapy. In their study published in the journal Cancer Discovery, 32 patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) who were unable to tolerate chemotherapy experienced positive responses to Venetoclax.

These patients had a median age of 71 years. However, the research team says that they still aim to find out if the same results can happen to younger patients with AML.