Drug developer Novartis said on Monday it may offer a novel treatment strategy for patients with breast cancer through its compound RAD001 which enhances the efficacy of treatments or overcomes resistance to some of them.

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, the pharmaceutical group reported results from RAD001 in a Phase II clinical trial. It said the compound enhances tumor shrinkage when given together with the drug Femara in women who are newly diagnosed with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.

Novartis said separately that Phase I studies suggest RAD001 may help also to overcome a major pathway of resistance to the drug trastuzumab, having the potential to help recover response in patients who are refractory to therapy.

In addition, as a third study, Novartis' Zometa drug for bone-cancer tested together with standard hormone therapy, appears to reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer in women who receive treatment in the early stage of the disease.

RAD001 has a promising potential across various subsets of breast cancer, said Professor Jose Baselga, MD, Hospital Vall D'Hebron, Barcelona, Spain in a statement.

Based on these data, Novartis has ongoing plans to initiate a new trial to evaluate the potential of RAD001 in breast cancer in early 2009.

RAD001 is a once-daily oral inhibitor of mTOR, a protein that acts as a central regulator of tumor cell division, cell metabolism and blood vessel growth. In addition to breast cancer, RAD001 is presently being evaluated in renal cell carcinoma; neuroendocrine tumors; lymphoma, lung, stomach and liver cancers, in addition to other cancers; and in tuberous sclerosis complex as a single agent or in combination with existing cancer therapies, Novartis said.

Shares of Novartis AG closed up 2.88 percent to $53.86 in the New York Stock Exchange today.