New Lung Cancer Medication Could Cut the Risk of Death by Half, Study Finds

Clinical trial data presented in Chicago at the biggest annual meeting of cancer specialists showed that taking a pill every day cuts in half the chance of dying from a certain type of lung cancer.

The drug osimertinib, which is sold under the name Tagrisso, cut the risk of death by 51% in patients whose tumors were surgically removed, according to results given at an American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting on Sunday.

Lung cancer is the most deadly form of the disease, killing about 1.8 million people every year around the world.

The drug company AstraZeneca made a treatment that targets a certain type of lung cancer in people with the most common type, called “non-small cell cancer,” who have a certain type of mutation.

These changes to the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) happen in 10–25% of lung cancer patients in the U.S. and Europe, and in 30–40% of lung cancer patients in Asia.

About 680 people in more than 20 countries who were in the early stages of the disease took part in the clinical study. They had to have surgery to remove the tumor first. After that, half of the patients took the treatment every day and the other half took a fake treatment.

The results showed that patients who took the tablet had a 51% lower chance of dying than those who took the dummy.

After five years, 88 percent of the people who got the treatment were still alive, while only 78 percent of the people who got a placebo were still living.

Roy Herbst of Yale University said that these numbers are “impressive” when he showed them in Chicago. At a press conference, he said that the drug stops the cancer from spreading to the brain, liver, and bones.

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He said that about a third of non-small cell cancers can be treated with surgery if they are found early enough.

In an interview with Reuters, Dave Fredrickson, executive vice president of cancer at AstraZeneca, said, “This is a pretty big and important change.”

At the news gathering, Nathan Pennell of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation said, “I think it’s hard for me to explain how important this finding is.”

Pennell, who did not take part in the studies, said, “We started to enter the era of personalized therapy for early-stage patients.” He also said, “We should close the door on one-size-fits-all treatment for people with non-small cell lung cancer.”

A news release from AstraZeneca says that Osimertinib has already been approved in dozens of countries for different uses and has been given to about 700,000 people.

It will be approved in the US for early stages in 2020 based on data from the past that showed a change in the length of time a patient lives without getting cancer again.

But not all doctors have started using the treatment, and many were waiting for the data on overall survival that was given on Sunday, said Herbst.

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He said that it was important to test people to see if they had the EGFR mutation. He said, “We can’t use this new treatment” if that wasn’t the case.

Osimertinib, which goes after the receptor, can cause severe tiredness, skin rashes, or diarrhea, among other side effects.

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