An experimental drug discovered by researchers in New Zealand and developed by the UK biotechnology company, Antisoma, is found to be effective in extending lives of lung cancer patients by one-third.
Doctors who welcome this breakthrough state that it is the first step in the fight against the disease.
Lung cancer is one of the most deadly cancers and the death rate increases every year. The rate of survival over 5 years is only 5%. The efforts to bring down the death rate have failed in the past.
A study was conducted on 70 patients affected by non-small cell lung cancer. It was found that when they were treated with the drug, not yet named and known as AS1404, they lived for 14 months on an average whereas the patients treated with chemotherapy alone lived for 8.8 months.
Efforts to find an effective treatment have failed and unlike other cancers, such as breast cancer, the death rate has not changed for more than a decade. A trial of the as yet unnamed drug, known as AS1404, in 70 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the commonest kind, found they lived for 14 months on average compared with 8.8 months for those given chemotherapy alone.
According to Antisoma, this 5.2 month difference is one of the biggest ever seen in a controlled trial conducted at random in which a new agent is given along with chemotherapy to treat lung cancer. In the trial, a reduction of 27% in the risk of death was observed among those treated with AS1404 when compared to those getting only chemotherapy.
Though the difference may seem insignificant, there is a sign of real benefits from the drug.
The drug belongs to a new class of compounds called vascular disrupting agents. These agents damage the blood vessels supplying the solid tumors.
The victory of phase II trial has paved way for phase III study. The result of this study will decide the licensing of the drug as safe and effective. The efficacy of AS1404 has already been proved in the phase II trials against prostate and ovarian cancer.
Mark McKeage of the University of Auckland, one of the researchers, said: "It is great to see this large survival benefit with AS1404 in lung cancer patients. This makes me feel very optimistic as we progress into phase III testing."
Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Our drug development team played an integral role in the early development of the drug and we're delighted with this news. We look forward to seeing how the drug performs in a much larger number of patients."
Over 100 agents have been put into trials since 1982.
"Over the next five years we plan to double our activity and speed up the drug development process, getting even more new drugs into clinical trials," Professor Markham said.
Over 26,000 deaths are caused by NSCLC in Britain every year.