Surprise: A Pfizer Cancer Drug Works

June 5, 2010 – 10:53 am
Robert LangrethBio | Email
Robert Langreth is a senior editor at Forbes, in charge of health care coverage

Its been a tough couple years for Pfizer on the cancer front, as numerous cancer drugs have failed in trials. Among others, Pfizer is presenting results from a failed trial of a lung cancer drug called figitumumab.

But Saturday morning at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, Pfizer is getting some good news. A new super-targeted lung cancer drug that treats a defective gene called EML4-ALK is showing great promise in early trials. Roughly 3% to 5% of lung cancer patients, generally younger nonsmokers, have this gene alteration. Roughly 10,000 lung cancer patients in the United States may have the genetic defect in their tumors.

Of 82 lung cancer patients with the defective gene who got the drug, called crizotinib, tumors shrank dramatically in 57% of them. The trial is still ongoing, so the duration of response is unknown, but some patients have gone 15 months without disease progression. The early results are so promising that Pfizer plans to apply for approval next year, even as larger studies are still ongoing.

The defective gene driving these cancers was discovered by basic researchers in 2007. “In just three short years we have gone from a description on an oncogene to a therapy,” said Mark Kris of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, at a press conference. “It is an amazing example of how once we understand a cancer cell we can come up with a therapy quickly.” He compared the development of the ALK drug to the development of Gleevec, from Novartis, for leukemia. Side-effects of crizotinib include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 7th June 2010

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