New drug that targets lung cancer genes offers better outcome than chemotherapy

Washington: Researchers have found that people, who have an advanced form of lung cancer that carries a specific dysfunctional gene, are likely to fare better if they are treated with a targeted therapy than with traditional chemotherapy.

In a trial involving patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumour cells harboured an abnormal ALK gene, those who received the oral drug crizotinib, which acts directly on ALK, went a median time of 7.7 months before their disease began to worsen, compared to 3 months for patients who received traditional chemotherapy.

Patients treated with crizotinib also had a better quality of life than those treated with standard chemotherapy.

Study`s senior author, Pasi A. Janne, MD, PhD, who is the director of the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology of Dana-Farber said that "ALK now becomes the second abnormal gene that we are able to successfully target in lung cancer with drugs other than chemotherapy."

Lung cancers with the first such gene, EGFR, are now commonly treated with EGFR inhibitors before chemotherapy.

The phase 3 trial involved 347 patients with advanced or metastatic NSCLC who had already been treated with standard chemotherapy.

The abnormality in ALK that arises in NSCLC is not, strictly speaking, a mutation rather, it results from a chromosomal rearrangement, in which the structure of a chromosome - the scaffolding of genetic material - is altered.

The findings have been published in the online edition of New England Journal of Medicine on June 1.