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Published on 2 June 2008

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“New standard” for lung cancer


A large phase III study has found that the targeted therapy cetuximab (Erbitux), combined with platinum-based chemotherapy, is effective as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

This is the first time a targeted drug has shown a survival benefit as a first-line treatment for patients with NSCLC, including all subtypes of the disease.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women, with 161,840 lung cancer deaths expected this year in the United States. NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, comprising 85 to 90% of all cases; more than 80% of NSCLC patients have tumors that express the EGFR gene. For patients with the most advanced form of the disease, one-year survival is about 30% and five-year survival is just one to two per cent.

“Patients with advanced NSCLC have limited treatment options and life expectancy is short, so the survival increase shown in this study is an important step for these patients,” said Robert Pirker MD, an associate professor of medicine at Medical University of and the study’s lead author. “These results clearly establish cetuximab in combination with chemotherapy as a new standard in first-line treatment of NSCLC.”

This study evaluated the addition of the EGFR antibody cetuximab to platinum-based chemotherapy (cisplatin and vinorelbine). The current standard of care for newly diagnosed patients with advanced NSCLC is platinum (either cisplatin or carboplatin) combined with a “third-generation drug” (vinorelbine, gemcitabine, paclitaxel or docetaxel). Earlier studies of different EGFR-targeted drugs, also called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (gefitinib and erlotinib), did not show an additional benefit to first-line standard chemotherapy and are currently approved for patients whose initial chemotherapy has failed.

These data were presented to the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), in Chicago this weekend.


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