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Osimertinib pill could cut risk of death from lung cancer by half, according to study

Lung cancer has long been notoriously difficult to treat
Lung cancer has long been notoriously difficult to treat Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Sarah Palmer
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Cancer specialists have just made a huge step in treating one of the most deadly strains of the disease.

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Researchers have discovered that taking the drug osimertinib once a day could reduce the risk of lung cancer patients dying by 51 per cent.

The results were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago last week. Led by researchers from Yale University, the results come on the back of a decade-long global study.

Speaking at the event, lead author of the study and deputy director of Yale Cancer Centre Dr Roy Herbst described the results as “thrilling”.

“Thirty years ago, there was nothing we could do for these patients. Now we have this potent drug,” Herbst said.

“Fifty per cent is a big deal in any disease, but certainly in a disease like lung cancer, which has typically been very resistant to therapies”.

How has lung cancer been treated up until now?

Due in part to how notoriously difficult it is to treat, lung cancer is the most fatal form of cancer, resulting in up to 1.8 million deaths per year worldwide..

Lung cancer often doesn’t show symptoms in the early stages, meaning a diagnosis can easily be missed. In turn, by the time it is finally identified, treatment can become more of a challenge.

Even if a lung cancer patient has a tumour removed or undergoes chemotherapy, the five-year survival rate is currently only around 25 per cent.

What did the trial involve?

This new trial looked at patients aged between 30 and 86 from across 26 countries, including Europe and the US. It specifically concentrated on whether osimertinib could target non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common type.

Crucially, everyone involved in the trial had a mutation of the EGFR gene. This gene appears in about a quarter of global lung cancer cases. It’s most common in women and people who have never smoked or have been light smokers in their lifetime.

Over the course of five years, 88 per cent of patients who took the drug were still alive compared with 78 per cent of people who were taking a placebo.

How does osimertinib work?

Osimertinib sits in a group of medications known as “kinase inhibitors”. These medications block the action of abnormal protein that signals to cancer cells to multiply, and slows them spreading.

Osimertinib is already authorised for use in several countries and has already been prescribed to around 700,000 people, according to a statement from its makers, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

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