New drug study in fight against lung cancer

October 27, 2010 3:17:30 PM PDT
There is some encouraging news in the fight against cancer, specifically lung cancer.

A small study of a new drug shows it can stop some tumors.

Imagine a pill which can stop the progress of a tumor in the lung.

Well that's exactly what happened to some select patients in this small study.

The drug is being studied in patients whose tumor has a certain gene, and this cancer drug is a pill.

"Well this is it, this is my chemo, I actually take these, one of these, and two of these, twice a day," said Diane Montali, a lung cancer patient.

Diane Montali is taking her chemotherapy in pill form these days.

She's in a study to test the pill against the lung cancer she is battling.

"I was diagnosed 5 years ago and I've been on 3 different chemos, and the last chemo I was on had stopped working," Montali said.

The pill is called Critzotinib.

Researchers discovered that the drug targets a mutated gene found in about 5% of lung cancer tumors.

The mutated ALK gene is one which tells the tumors to grow.

The drug interferes with those instructions.

As a result, the tumor growth stops or slows completely.

In a small study, 83 patients given Critzotinib showed that in 57% of the patients, the tumors shrank.

In almost 30% more, the tumors stopped growing during the 6 months the drug was under study.

Dr. Mark Kris of Memorial Sloan Kettering cautions that doctors still don't know how long the effects will last.

"While some of the people taking Critzotinib continue to have benefit, some the benefit stopped and there were a few patients it didn't help," Dr. Kris said.

Because the drug moves in on a specific gene, it was studied only in patients like Diane, whose tumor tested positive for the mutated ALK gene.

This targeted therapy is helping scientists learn more about fighting cancer cells.

"We always want to fight those defects of the cancer, look for them and exploit them, and that's what a drug like Critzotinib does," Dr. Kris said.

Side effects can be a problem for cancer drugs, but for this drug they're minor.

Diane says she has had few side effects and is grateful she has the gene that enabled her to try the treatment.

"For me, I feel like I won the lottery when I found out I had this gene and they were able to give me such a specific chemo," Montali said.

For more information about the clinical trial sites in your area, call the Pfizer Oncology Clinical Trial Information Service at 1-877-369-9753 or visit