While it is too early to arrive at a conclusion or pronounce an accomplishment, a new trial medication to treat lung cancer patients with specific gene demonstrated amazing potential during the initial trials with the drug. Doctors who tested the experimental drug told at a cancer meet organized recently that over 90 per cent of the 82 patients who participated in a research found that their tumours had contracted after using the trial medication for two months.
One of the study leaders Dr. Yung-Jue Bang of the Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea said that the researchers had actually anticipated that the drug - Pfizer Inc.'s crizotinib - would have a positive impact only on around 10 per cent of the subjects who were severely sick owing to lung cancer. In fact, all the patients who took part in the study were in the advanced stage of the disease and in some of them cancer had even spread to their brain. On an average, each of them had earlier tried at least three different medications to treat their condition, but with no avail. Thus far, the reaction to the trial drug crizotinib has persisted for 15 months. According to Dr Bang, encouraged by the results, researchers have now decided to test the medication on patients in their late-stage.
The effect of crizotinib has been so encouraging that several prominent cancer experts, who are usually not instigated unless a medication establishes that it is successful in studies involving large number of subjects against the prevalent modes of treatments, also asserted that the research on crizotinib shows great potential. According to the lung cancer chief at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital located in Houston, Dr Roy Herbst, although it is too soon to make any comment regarding the success of the trial with crizotinib, the drug definitely appears to be useful. Dr Herbst said that though he has checked with the manufacturers of other lung cancer medications, he was yet to consult with the makers of crizotinib.
It may be mentioned here that even Dr Alice Shaw, a physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital who is at the helm of a bigger research on crizotinib, held the same view as Dr Herbst. According to Dr Shaw, as the statistics of the study conducted by Dr Bang and his team was very strong, the results do not seem to present false expectations.
Crizotinib has actually been developed to target a gene known to endorse the development of tumour and is generally present in approximately four per cent of lung cancer patients, particularly among the youth and those who do not smoke. Although four per cent of lung cancer patients may seem to be a small number, considering the fact that almost 220,000 fresh incidents of lung cancer are identified every year only in the United States and that the disease claims maximum lives amongst all types of cancer worldwide, it is actually a vast number of people. In other words, if the trial drug proves to be successful, it would benefit as many as 10,000 patients in the United States every year, observed Dr Mark Kris. Dr Kris, who has already checked with Pfizer, is a lung cancer expert at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre located in New York.
It may be noted here that two different medications - Iressa and Tarceva, which are also gene-targeted remedies, help out as many as 20,000 patients suffering from lung cancer every year in the United States. Dr Herbst said that using these treatments, they were already helping a substantial number of lung cancer patients and discovery of further treatments related to the gene would only facilitate many more patients.
According to Dr Kris, the gene that is targeted by crizotinib was actually discovered some time back in 2007. He said that when they are familiar with a cancer cell, they would be able to find a remedy to treat the life threatening disease fast.
In fact, no serious side effects of the experimental drug were noticed during the study conducted by Dr Bang and his colleagues. Although crizotinib resulted in minor after-effects, such as diarrhea, vomiting or nausea on 50 per cent of the patients who participated in the experiments, it is believed that more and bigger researches are required to validate the safety of using the drug. In fact, much more researches are required to find out if the medication is additionally useful compared to the present remedies to treat lung cancer patients. In addition, further studies are also needed to ascertain the duration of the drug's impact as well as to find whether the medication enhances survival rate of the patients and not simply help in shrinking the tumours.
Before we wrap up the discussion, it may be mentioned that the manufacturer of crizotinib, Pfizer has not only funded the study undertaken by the researchers of Dr Bang's team, but also initiated a number of larger studies with a view to evaluate the effectiveness of crizotinib to other drugs and treatments being used at present to cure lung cancer patients. Now, the drug manufacturer intends to request the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its approval for mass use of crizotinib to treat lung cancer patients sometime in 2011. Furthermore, it needs to be mentioned that the findings of the study were presented at a conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology recently.