A clinical trial under way since 2006 shows that the drug called crizotinib successfully blocks a gene that causes the growth of a particular kind of lung cancer - anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
"Crizotinib holds great promise in treating ALK positive lung cancer."
Of the 119 patients involved in the study, crizotinib shrunk tumors to some extent in the the majority of patients. Responses were notably dramatic in more than 60 percent of cases. And the positive responses lasted approximately 48 weeks. Side effects were mild, and usually improved over time.
D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, the director of the lung cancer clinical program at University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) and the University of Colorado Cancer Center, says the results of this trial testing crizotinib open the door to a new way of thinking about cancer treatment.
Approximately one in 20 lung cancer patients is ALK positive. UCH cares for one of the largest groups of ALK positive lung cancer patients in the world.
Camidge says it's crucial for anyone who is diagnosed with lung cancer to have their tumor tested for ALK and a growing number of other molecular markers.
The University of Colorado was instrumental in developing several tests that now reveal lung cancer to be actually several different diseases at the molecular level. Each type, therefore, may require a different type of treatment.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Pfizer manufactures crizotinib and sponsored the clinical trials.
Findings were presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.