A new drug has shown promise in the clinical trials involving lung cancer patients and it has even been proposed to evaluate the drug as a frontline therapy for those with lung cancer. One of the significant problems faced in the treatment regime in the elderly patients is the tolerability and side effects of the drugs currently used.
The tyrosine kinase inhibitor erlotinib (Tarceva) has demonstrated encouraging activity with relatively tolerable side effects in elderly, previously untreated patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer according to researchers from Boston.
Erlotinib is designed to specifically and potently block an overactive growth-signaling molecule (EGFR) in cancer cells. The drug has also showed encouraging activity in patients with failed chemotherapy attempts. The present study is the first reported in the assessment of erlotinib in patients who have not received chemotherapy.
The study involved 80 patients with either Stage IIIB or IV presentation who were subjected to erlotinib treatment for 2 years. Almost 60 percent of the patients experienced either a partial response or had stable disease, though none of them had a complete response. The median survival was 46 weeks, and the median duration of partial response and stable disease was 65 weeks and 24 weeks, respectively.
In addition, all patients were evaluated for survival and toxicity; 69 were evaluated for best response. Ten patients discontinued from the study because of toxicity, and there was one treatment-related death from pneumonitis. Rashes (74%) and diarrhea (60 %) were the most common observed side effects.
Following success of the Phase II trials, the Phase III trial would be directed to comparing erlotinib with single-agent navelbine in the above mentioned population shortly.
In conclusion, erlotinib has been found to display encouraging activity and improve median survival in lung cancer patients. It is also well tolerated in patients over 70 years, a significant finding.
However, further research might be necessary before the drug can be used in the initial treatment of advanced lung cancer rather than approach involving conventional chemotherapy.