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New Drug Shows Promise Against Certain Lung Cancers
Date:10/28/2010

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental cancer drug is proving effective in treating the lung cancers of some patients whose tumors carry a certain genetic mutation, new studies show.

Because the mutation can be present in other forms of cancer -- including a rare form of sarcoma (cancer of the soft tissue), childhood neuroblastoma (brain tumor), as well as some lymphomas, breast and colon cancers -- researchers say they are hopeful the drug, crizotinib, will prove effective in treating those cancers as well.

In one study, led by Dr. Eunice Kwak of Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers identified 82 patients from among 1,500 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung malignancy, whose tumors had a mutation in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene.

Crizotinib targets the ALK "driver kinase," or protein, blocking its activity and preventing the tumor from growing, explained a study co-author Dr. Geoffrey Shapiro, director of the Early Drug Development Center and associate professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston.

"The cancer cell is actually addicted to the activity of the protein for its growth and survival," Shapiro said. "It's totally dependent on it. The idea is that blocking that protein can kill the cancer cell."

In 46 patients taking crizotinib, the tumor shrunk by more than 30 percent during an average of six months of taking the drug. In 27 patients, crizotinib halted growth of the tumor, while in one patient the tumor disappeared.

The drug also had few side effects, Shapiro said. The most common was mild gastrointestinal symptoms.

"These are very positive results in lung cancer patients who had received other treatments that didn't work or worked only briefly," Shapiro said. "The bottom line is that there was a 72 percent chance the tumor wou
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