Category Archives: Immunotherapy

New drugs making progress against lung cancer

Lung cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. At one time 90 percent of the people who developed lung cancer died from the disease. The number is better now, but the death rate for lung cancer is still one of the highest for any form of cancer.

The five-year survival rate today for lung cancer is still only about 17.7 percent and more than half the people who are diagnosed die within a year. However, early detection is key. Lung cancer is a bitch about metastasing to other parts of the body. If it can be caught early while still localized in the lung, the five-year survival rate jumps to 55 percent.

They haven’t found a cure, of course, but no drugs are making big progress on lung cancer, as well as prostate and breast cancers.

One of the main drugs used against a certain kind of lung cancer (that younger people and nonsmokers tend to get) is Xalkori, makde by Pfizer. This new drug is called Alecensa, made by Roche.

The AP did a big story on this last week. From the story:

“Roche’s Alecensa stopped cancer growth for 15 months longer than Pfizer’s Xalkori did in a study of 303 people with advanced lung cancer and a mutation in a gene called ALK. About 5 percent of lung cancer patients — 12,500 in the U.S. each year — have an ALK mutation, especially younger people and nonsmokers who get the disease.

Alecensa kept cancer from worsening for 26 months versus 11 months for Xalkori. It also penetrates the brain better: Only 9 percent of those on it had their lung cancer spread to the brain during the first year of treatment versus 41 percent of those on Xalkori. Serious side effects and deaths were less common with Alecensa.

The federal Food and Drug Administration approved it in December 2015 for ALK-related lung cancers that worsened despite trying Xalkori. The new study tested it as initial treatment and is aimed at getting full approval for that.

Xalkori is around $10,000 a month and Alecensa about $12,500.”

So, this drug extends the life of lung cancer patients by two years on the average.

Look at the price tag, though. Imagine trying to pay for that without medical coverage.

Obviously not a cure, but maybe making a dent in that terrible survival rate. Incredible with the advances in treating cancer, especially childhood leukemia, that they have made so little progress in treating lung cancer. I think that is partly because of the stigma that continues to surround lung cancer compared to other kinds of cancer.

Another promising front is immunotherapy with drugs such as Keytruda (this is an esperimental drug taken by Jimmy Carter when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few years ago and he’s still kicking). I’ve written about this before.

From a Medscape article:

The overall response rate (ORR) of 45% reported for pembrolizumab (Keytruda) first-line is unprecedented, Dr Soria said. Together with the superior progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS), as well as the better tolerability, when compared with chemotherapy, these findings indicate that pembrolizumab is now “the new gorilla” in the treatment of (non-small cell lung cancer), and probably a new standard of care, he said.

There was also good news on the breast cancer and prostate cancer fronts. A new drug called Zytiga delayed cancer growth for 18 months for men with advanced prostate cancer, while a drug called Lynparza helped delay breast cancer growth for seven months.