Patients with a certain kind of malignant mesothelioma now have a new weapon in their arsenal, thanks to the approval of a new drug for lung cancer. The drug, called afatinib, was recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer in its late stages.
Like mesothelioma, this type of cancer is often associated with a mutation in the gene that codes for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), causing cells to overexpress EGFR. In clinical trials on lung cancer patients, afatinib produced a progression-free survival time of 11.1 months compared to 6.9 months with the standard therapy. In lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutation, it took an average of 13.6 months for their cancer to worsen. The benefits of afatinib were not affected by gender, race, age, or smoking status of participants.
Although the drug has not been tested in mesothelioma, its approval is still important news for patients fighting the asbestos cancer. Mesothelioma is a fast-growing cancer with no reliable treatment options. As with lung cancer, the prognosis with mesothelioma is typically poor. The standard drug therapy is a combination of pemetrexed and cisplatin, the same combination typically used for non-small cell lung cancer. With the approval of afatinib, mesothelioma patients who fail to respond to this therapy now have an alternative.
About half of mesothelioma patients tested have the EGFR mutation, making them more likely to respond to the mechanism of afatinib, which is part of a new class of drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors. The new drug was approved along with a diagnostic test used to identify cancer patients whose cells overexpress EGFR.
"Today's approvals further illustrate how a greater understanding of the underlying molecular pathways of a disease can lead to the development of targeted treatments," said Richard Pazdur, MD, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
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New Lung Cancer Drug May Help Mesothelioma Patients