03 May 2004

Some Optimism For Lung Cancer Patients

I have never been a fan of prescription drugs being advertised as "wonder drugs" or "cure-alls," but recently a drug known as IRESSA is slowly garnering rave reviews from respected news report accounts worldwide. Its generic name is Gefitinib and its mode of action, as described by its website (click here) is as follows:

"Gefitinib inhibits the intracellular phosphorylation of several tyrosine kinases associated with transmembrane cell surface receptors, including the tyrosine kinases associated with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR-TK)"

In plain English, that means IRESSA attacks and destroys specific molecules (like EGFR-TK) that are known to promote and encourage cancer growth.

IRESSA belongs to a new class of cancer therapies. Taken orally once a day in its 250mg-tablet form, it is specifically indicated for patients with locally advanced or metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) after failure of both platinum-based and docetaxel chemotherapies.

It was only last month when it got the US government approval to be marketed as a last-ditch therapy for lung cancer patients who "tried almost everything" to lick their illness.

Initially, medical experts were at a loss in explaining why IRESSA worked for some patients and why it didn't for most. Lung cancer kills 160,000 Americans yearly and also a significant number of Filipinos locally (no thanks to smoking or pathetic government efforts to stop it). Recently, two groups of researchers writing in Science and the New England Journal of Medicine claim they have found the reason to explain the selective treatment provided by IRESSA: patients who exhibit remarkable improvements have a genetic mutation in their tumors that makes their disease highly vulnerable to the drug. That genetic mutation has something to do with cancer receptor expression. Patients with the EGRF-TK receptors on their cancers are strong candidates for dramatic healing and improvement because IRESSA targets these molecules specifically.

Read the story here. Another insightful report can be read here.

But how happy should we be? What is the reported success rate of IRESSA?

In the 10 percent of patients who respond to the drug--and who now seem to have the key mutations--it's at least 80 percent effective. The average patient has had his tumors shrink and symptoms improve for six months, and for many these improvements have lasted several years.

Finally, some glimpse of hope after long, long years of deaths and exhaustive fights against cancer.

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