Boehringer sights AZ and Roche drugs in targeted lung cancer fight

Boehringer Ingelheim hit the bull's eye in a lung cancer study. The German drugmaker's treatment afatinib succeeded in a late-stage trial of patients with non-small cell lung cancer with EGFR mutations. Lung cancer kills more than 1.3 million people annually, making it the largest cause of cancer deaths worldwide.  

Afatinib, an ErbB family blocker, helped stymie the progression of NSCLC for 11.1 months on average compared with 6.9 months of progression-free survival among patients on standard chemotherapy, the company announced during the annual American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago. And patients on afatinib with the two most common EGFR mutations survived for 13.6 months without their cancers getting worse, nearly doubling the PFS of the chemotherapy-treated group.

The study, called LUX-Lung 3, enrolled only patients with EGFR mutations, and Boehringer expects to develop a companion diagnostic to test patients for the genetic abnormality linked to cancer growth to determine whether they should get treated with afatinib.

True to one of the main goals of next-gen targeted drugs, patients on afatinib had reduced cancer-related symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughs and chest pain. And Boehringer touted improvements in quality of life among those treated with its experimental drug, based on results of a questionnaire given to patients. The total data package boosts the case for highly selective inhibitors as a means to extend survival while sparing patients some of aches and pains typically experienced during treatment.

"This definitely meets our expectations. It's very encouraging," said Dr. Lecia Sequist, of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, said, as quoted by Reuters.  "In the U.S., this is important because this study may lead FDA approval ofthe first drug specifically for the EGFR mutation."

Now the Ingelheim, Germany-based pharma group wants to test afatinib head-to-head with the marketed cancer meds Iressa (gefitinib) from AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Tarceva (erlotinib) from Roche ($RHHBY). And recruitment for the trials has already begun. One is a Phase IIb trial comparing treatment on afatinib to gefitinib as a first line of attack on non-small cell lung cancer in patients with EGFR mutations. And the second is a late-stage study in which afatinib goes head-to-head with erlotinib as second-line treatments for squamous cell carcinomas in the lung.

- here's the release
- see Reuters' report

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