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Erbitux Fights Advanced Lung Cancer

Study Shows Drug May Add New Option for Treatment of Lung Cancer Patients

New Option for Lung Cancer Patients continued...

"An extra five weeks [of survival] might not seem like much, and it's not," says David M. Johnson, MD, deputy director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville and a cancer survivor himself.

"But if you focus on the five weeks, you're losing the bigger message," he tells WebMD. "This is a positive study for a very tough group of patients to treat. Just like the Wright brothers didn't launch the 747 at Kitty Hawk, cancer cures aren't discovered overnight."

Before chemotherapy was introduced, only 10% of lung cancer patients could be expected to be alive a year later. Over the past 30 years, that figure jumped to 20%, and then to 30% as new chemotherapy agents were discovered, he says.

Now, with targeted therapies, Johnson says, "We can start telling our patients they have a nearly 50% chance of being alive in 12 months. I can guarantee you that a patient on Erbitux who is alive a year after diagnosis will tell you this drug is a true advance."

Howard Sandler, MD, professor of radiation and oncology at the University of Michigan, says, "This study has the potential to cause a major change in therapeutic practice, especially for patients who are ineligible for Avastin."

Sandler says that until a head-to-head study pitting Avastin against Erbitux is performed, "I can't say one is worse or better. People could say Avastin extended survival a few weeks more than Erbitux, but that is just not fair. Each showed a survival benefit. Ultimately, the choice will be up to physicians and patients," he says.

Roy Herbst, MD, chief of thoracic oncology at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, wasn't quite as enthusiastic. "It's a very small benefit," he says.

But Herbst acknowledges that it does offer a new option for Avastin-ineligible patients.

Almost all doctors agree the findings will lead to FDA approval of Erbitux for use in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer.

Erbitux is made by ImClone Systems Inc. and marketed by Merck in Europe, which funded the study.

A spokesperson for ImClone Systems says the therapy will cost about $8,000. Johnson says Avastin is a little less expensive, "about $5,000 to $6,000."

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