New Lung Cancer Treatment

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts are developing a new lung cancer drug for Pfizer. Currently in the early phases of a stage 3 clinical trial, Crizotinib was successful in shrinking non-small cell lung cancer tumors by at least 30% in 47 of 82 patients exhibiting cancers with a specific mutation in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene. Tumor growth halted in another 27 patients in the study, meaning that 90% of (the admittedly small) test base showed at least some benefit from taking the drug.
 The chemical structure of Crizotinib. (Source: Fvasconcellos/Wikipedia)
The chemical structure of Crizotinib. (Source: Fvasconcellos/Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, Crizotinib has no effect on tumors without the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutation. The mutation is only found in 3-5% of people diagnosed with lung cancer, but that still amounts to around 40,000 patients per year. Pfizer is working with Abbott Laboratories on diagnostic tests to identify patients whose cancers exhibit the ALK mutation.

The trial focused on patients who never smoked or were only light smokers with an average age of 50. The 57% effective rate is significantly better than the statistical average response for chemotherapy, but researchers are quick to point out that no direct scientific comparison was done between this drug treatment and other types of cancer treatment. Such comparisons are planned as part of the phase 3 clinical trials.

The mutation of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene is also found in several other types of cancers including some types of pediatric brain cancers, colon cancers, and breast cancers. It is possible doctors could also use Crizotinib to treat these other cancers in the future. For now, the new drug is moving quickly through the clinical trial process for treating lung cancers, reaching phase 3 in less than three years from the start of its phase 1 testing, and Pfizer hopes to be ready to file a full FDA approval application some time in 2011.

TFOT previously reported on other new cancer treatments currently under development including a potential cure for cancer using agelastatins excreted by sponges, a method for diagnosing and treating cancer using gold nanorods, the use of new blood transfusions to fight certain types of cancers, and a way to use a common plant virus to directly target cancer cells without harming any of the surrounding healthy tissue.

Read more about Crizotinib and its clinical trials in this Pfizer press release. Read more about the companion test to determine whether a cancer patient has the ALK mutation in this Abbott press release.