One tablet has been shown to halve the risk of death from a certain type of lung cancer, when taken daily after surgery to remove the tumor, according to "impressive" results from a clinical trial presented Sunday.
They were unveiled in Chicago at the largest annual conference of cancer specialists, organized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Lung cancer is the cancer that causes the most deaths, with an estimated 1.8 million deaths worldwide each year.
This treatment developed by the pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, osimertinib (marketed under the name Tagrisso), targets a particular type of lung cancer. It concerns patients with a so-called "non-small cell" cancer (the most common form), and with a particular type of mutation.
88% of patients still alive after 5 years
These mutations (on what is called the epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGF receptor) affect 10% to 25% of lung cancer patients in the United States and Europe, and 30% to 40% in Asia.
The clinical trial included some 680 participants at an early stage of the disease (stages 1b to 3a), in more than two dozen countries. They had to have first undergone surgery to remove the tumor, then half of the patients took the treatment daily, and the other half a placebo. As a result, taking the tablet resulted in a 51% reduction in the risk of death for treated patients, compared to placebo. After five years, 88% of patients who took the treatment were still alive, compared to 78% of patients who took placebo.
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The data is "impressive," Roy Herbst of Yale University, who presented it in Chicago, said in a statement. The drug helps "prevent the disease from spreading to the brain, liver and bones," he added at a news conference. About a third of cases of "non-small cell" cancers can be operated on when detected, he said.
It's hard for me to say how important these results are," Nathan Pennell of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, who was not involved in the study, said at the press conference. "We have entered the realm of personalized therapies for early-stage patients," he said, and "we should close the door to undifferentiated treatment for all," namely chemotherapy.
Osimertinib is already licensed in dozens of countries, and has already been given to some 700,000 people, according to a statement from AstraZeneca. Its approval in the United States in 2020 for the indication concerned here was based on previous data, which showed an improvement in the survival of patients without disease, that is to say the time lived without recurrence of cancer.
But not all doctors have adopted the treatment yet, and were waiting for overall survival data, presented Sunday, Roy Herbst explained. He stressed the need to "screen patients" to find out if they have the EGF receptor mutation. "Otherwise we cannot use this new treatment," said the oncologist. Osimertinib, which targets this receptor, causes side effects, he said, such as fatigue, skin redness or diarrhea.