Erbitux Helps Treat Advanced Lung Cancer
Study Shows Benefits for Patients With Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer
Sept. 23, 2009 (Berlin) -- Adding the targeted drug Erbitux to standard
chemotherapy drugs significantly cuts the risk of death for advanced
non-small-cell lung cancer patients -- regardless of what chemotherapy
combination is used.
Last year, researchers reported that patients lived five weeks longer when
Erbitux was added to a particular chemotherapy combination. But it wasn't clear
whether the choice of chemo drugs mattered.
To find out, Jean-Louis Pujol, MD, chair of thoracic oncology at Montpelier
Academic Hospital in France, and colleagues pooled data from four trials that
looked at Erbitux plus various chemotherapy cocktails.
The analysis, which included 2,018 advanced non-small-cell lung cancer
patients, showed that those who got Erbitux had a 13% lower chance of dying
within three years than those who got chemotherapy alone.
Among other findings:
- Patients given chemo alone survived a median of 9.4 months vs. 10.3 months
in the chemotherapy plus Erbitux group.
- Patients who got Erbitux were 10% more likely to be alive and free of
cancer at three years compared with those who got chemotherapy alone.
- Patients who received Erbitux were 48% more likely to experience tumor
The most common side effect was an acne-like rash.
The results were presented at joint meeting of the European Cancer
Organization and the European Society of Medical Oncology.
Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer, taking the lives of more than
160,000 Americans last year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Non-small-cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting
for more than 80% of cases.
About four in 10 of cases of non-small-cell lung cancer are diagnosed at an
advanced stage, when they have already spread to other parts of the body and
are notoriously difficult to treat. Only about 2% of patients with metastatic
disease are alive five years after diagnosis.
Erbitux is a monoclonal antibody that blocks the effects of a protein called
epidermal growth factor, which fuels tumor growth. It's already approved
for treating head and neck as well as colorectal cancers.
Pooling the results of several studies give a more accurate estimate of a
drug's true effects than each study alone, says Chris Twelves, MD, co-chairman
of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting.
"With these large numbers, we can be very confident that Erbitux adds to the
benefits of chemotherapy," he tells WebMD.
While the drug only extended the lives of patients by four to five weeks, on
average, "it's likely that some patients get no benefit and some get greater
benefit," says Twelves, professor of clinical cancer pharmacology at the Leeds
Institute of Molecular Medicine in Leeds, England.
Since the treatment can be costly, "the next step is to figure out the
subset of patients for whom we get clinically meaningful benefit," he says.
The study was funded by a grant from Merck KGaA, which makes Erbitux.