At the Annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, held from June 4 – 8 in Chicago, Illinois, Pfizer prevented its primary results from a clinical trial of their new, oral cancer drug crizotinib. Used as treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), crizotinib is doubling the survival rate of other drugs. The treatment only targets tumors with the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) genetic marker, which makes up only 3% to 5% of NSCLC cases. However, there may be a chance that the ALK marker could be found in pleural mesothelioma tumors.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the lining of the body’s major organs and cavities, with the most common type, pleural, affecting specifically the lungs. It is caused almost exclusively by prolonged asbestos exposure and there is no known cure. The difference between lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma is that lung cancer consists of individual tumors with clear boundaries, while mesothelioma is a diffuse malignancy that blurs the boundaries between malignant and healthy tissue.
The recently revealed crizotinib results report that 74% of patients with advanced NSCLC treated with the drug were still alive after one year and 54% after two years. Typically, less than 20% of NSCLC patients survive past two years. The numbers decrease with mesothelioma, as the average life expectancy is between six and 18 months with treatment.
The fact that crizotinib is an ALK-inhibitor and showing successful results is contributing to the belief that focusing on personalized treatment targeted to a patient’s characteristics optimizes the potential for effective treatment and survival.