European licence granted for targeted lung cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche has been granted a European licence to market erlotinib (Tarceva) as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who carry a particular genetic change in their tumours.

The drug is taken as a once-daily tablet.

Phase III trials of the drug, such as EURTAC and OPTIMAL, show that it doubled the time patients lived without their disease progressing, when compared to the current standard chemotherapy treatment.

Lung cancer is Britain's biggest cause of cancer death, with over 39,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

Research has shown that as many as one in 10 Western people and nearly one third of those of Asian origin who have NSCLC have faults in the EGFR gene. A presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in June this year suggested the drug could benefit around three-and-a-half thousand patients in the UK.

Professor Siow-Ming Lee, a Cancer Research UK-funded lung cancer clinician, welcomed the news. 'This is another step towards personalised treatment for lung cancer patients who have specific genetic changes in their tumour," he said.

"Patients with this particular mutation who have these new targeted treatments on average can double the time before their disease progresses, compared to the usual chemotherapy treatment, allowing them to spend more valuable time with their families'

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's policy director said, "It's exciting that erlotinib is now licensed for use in the UK as a first line treatment for people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, as this means it is one step closer to becoming available for patients with the disease.

"It's important that NICE makes a decision as quickly as possible on whether or not the drug should be made routinely available to all appropriate patients. In the meantime decisions about whether patients can get this drug will have to be made through the Cancer Drugs Fund or through other means locally.

"This is an example of how treatment can be tailored according to the genetic makeup of the tumour, an approach we're exploring as part of our Stratified Medicine Programme launching in the next few months."

Copyright Press Association