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Pill Shrinks Some Lung Cancers

Crizotinib Shows Promise for Lung Cancer Patients With ALK Genetic Abnormality

Crizotinib for Lung Cancer: Hope Warranted

Cancer doctors don't usually get excited about a drug that's in such early phase I testing; they prefer to see long-term safety results and how well it works when pitted against existing treatments, or at least placebo.

But in this case, enthusiasm is warranted, Herbst tells WebMD.

Although some drugs fail to live up to their promise, crizotinib appears to shrink tumors and keep cancer at bay in a large portion of patients that carry the gene defect targeted by the drug, he says.

"It's hard to argue that a response rate this high in these selected patients is not due to a specific effect of this agent on the ALKpathway," Herbst says.

And because crizotinib is targeted at an abnormality on cancer cells, it doesn't cause the systemic side effects associated with chemotherapy, which kills cancer and healthy cells alike, says Alice Shaw, MD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital who worked on the study.

Herbst says that two other gene-targeted treatments, Tarceva and Iressa, help another 10% to 20% of lung cancer patients.

"We're chipping away at the pie," he says.

Still, more testing is needed to establish long-term safety and to see how the drug compares to existing treatments, how long any benefits last, and whether it extends lives, Herbst says.

Pfizer, which makes the drug and sponsored the work, is enrolling patients in a late-stage, phase III study, which will compare crizotinib to standard chemotherapy.

The company hopes to submit an application for FDA approval next year, says a company spokesperson, adding that no price has been set.

Crizotinib is also being tested for the treatment of some lymphoma, sarcomas, and brain cancer patients with the ALK aberration.

 

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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