New Lung Cancer Drug Cuts Risk of Death in Half

In a phase 3 clinical trial, osimertinib — a new targeted cancer drug — significantly reduced mortality in people with a specific type of non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States. Estimates indicate that in 2023 about 127,070 people will die from the disease, and around 238,340 individuals will receive a lung cancer diagnosis.

There are two types of lung cancer, small cell, and non-small cell. However, 80% to 85% of people diagnosed with the disease have non-small cell lung cancer, and 10% to 15% of these cancers have an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene mutation. This gene mutation makes the cancer more vulnerable to drugs that block the receptor's pathway.

Now, the results of a phase 3, double-blind trial, funded by AstraZeneca, showed that osimertinib — a drug that targets this receptor — cut the risk of death by 51% in people with EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer.

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During the trial, 682 people with surgically removed stage IB to IIIA EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer were given a daily oral dose of placebo or 80 mg of osimertinib. They continued this treatment for three years.

After a five-year follow-up, the overall survival rate was 88% among those taking osimertinib and 78% in the placebo group, which the researchers say is significant.

In an AstraZeneca press release, principal investigator Roy S. Herbst, deputy director and chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center, says, "These highly anticipated overall survival results, with 88% of patients alive at five years, are a momentous achievement in the treatment of early-stage EGFR-mutated lung cancer. These data underscore that adjuvant treatment with osimertinib provides patients with the best chance of long-term survival."

The research team says future trials will examine the drug's impacts on people with earlier-stage EGFR-mutated lung cancer before and after surgery.

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