New Cancer Drugs Bring Doctors Closer To Cure

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By Jack Crowe

Drug companies have been showcasing their progress in the fight against many common forms of cancer at the world’s largest oncology research meeting in Chicago, which began Friday and will continue through Tuesday.

New drugs, which have proven more effective than existing drugs in treating forms of lung, prostate and breast cancer, were on display at The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference. The conference was expected to draw as many as 30,000 oncology professionals.

Zytiga, a prostate cancer drug developed by Janssen Biotech, was among the most promising drugs displayed over the weekend, according to the Associated Press. The drug, which is approved to treat hormone resistant tumors, delayed tumor growth for 18 months when added to standard care in a study of 1,200 men with advanced prostate cancer. The study was halted after the drug’s efficacy became apparent as 66 percent of men taking it were alive after three years compared to 49 percent of men who were not given the drug.

Dr. Richard Schilsky, Chief Medical Officer for ASCO, told the AP the new treatment would be accepted medical practice “pretty much overnight.”

Roche’s new lung cancer drug Alcensa was also among the highlights of the conference. The drug stopped cancer growth for 15 months longer than Pfizer’s Xalcori in a study of 303 individuals with late stage lung cancer and a specific gene mutation. The gene mutation, known as an ALK mutation, affects roughly 5 percent of lung cancer patients, and disproportionately effects younger people and non-smokers.

AztraZeneca’s Lynparza, a new type of breast cancer drug, showed promise for the first time in a recent study presented at the conference. The drug, known as a PARP inhibitor, proved effective in treating cancer in women with BRCA mutation, a gene mutation that increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer. The drug, which costs about $13,000 a month, delayed the time cancer worsens from seven months in women using traditional chemotherapies to four months for women on Lynparza.

In addition to the many new cancer specific drugs displayed at the conference, a new “uni drug” that acts on many types of cancers was also presented. Loxo Oncology Inc.’s larotrectinib is designed to combat various types of cancers that share a common gene abnormality. A study of 50 people with 17 different types of cancer produced very encouraging results. An unusually high 76 percent of patients responded to the treatment to the extent that their disease has not worsened since beginning the trial.

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