The US medicines regulator, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), has approved a genetic test to help doctors select
suitable lung cancer patients to be treated with the drug erlotinib (sold as Tarceva).
The test will be used to check whether patients with
advanced, metastatic cancer — where the cancerous cells have spread to other
parts of the body — have one of these mutations. If they do, then they are more likely to benefit from erlotinib
in place of standard chemotherapy.
The EURTAC clinical trial validated this approach. In
the study, patients with EGFR mutations treated with erlotinib lived for over ten months without their getting worse. In comparison, patients given standard
chemotherapy lived without disease progression for only five months.
These non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) account for the
majority of lung cancers, which themselves account for the majority of the
cancer-related deaths. Personalised medicine regimes such as this aim to tailor
drug courses to those patients for whom the drugs are most likely to be
effective. It is hoped that this will provide better outcomes for patients,
while using restricted healthcare funds more cost-effectively.
Erlotinib has been licensed in the UK and elsewhere in
Europe as first-line treatment of NSCLC in patients harbouring appropriate
EFGR mutations since 2012, after the EURTAC trial showed it to be effective. It
is also indicated as a potential second-line treatment where previous
chemotherapy courses have failed.