New Drug for Lung Cancer: September 13, 2011

It’s being hailed as a breakthrough medicine; a twice-daily pill that targets the growth of a specific type of lung cancer. The FDA fast-tracked its approval.

“I think it was very exciting because it’s sort of a proof that these targeted therapies for cancers can be affective,” says Dr. Lowell Hart, a hematologist/oncologist on the medical staff of  Lee Memorial Health System.

Dr. Lowell Hart has three patients on the drug, now named Xalkori. He saw the drug make a dramatic impact.

“It was very impressive to me that these were sick patients who had had their cancer progress through chemotherapy no longer working on chemo, so we would expect them to not do very well and perhaps not live very long but have had very dramatic responses to the drug,” says Dr. Hart.

The drug only works on the 5-10% of lung cancers which have a specific gene knows as ALK. Many people with it are non-smokers who developed ‘small lung cancer’.

“All three of my patients that have this mutation are women and non-smokers,” says Dr. Hart.

The new drug blocks protein produced by the ALK gene. It’s a targeted therapy, which researchers believe is the future of controlling or curing cancer. The FDA also approved a screening test.

“I am personally checking everybody and I think you know my partners are in general checking everybody and the tests are now commercially available,” says Dr. Hart.

Xalkori comes with a high price tag, upwards of $100,000 a year, on par with traditional chemo. Drug maker Pfizer is expected to work with insurance companies to limit out of pocket expenses, important in making the drug available to those who need it.

“I’ve seen that very few times in my career of over 25 years. I said this drug is the real thing,” says Dr. Hart.