New drug 'more effective' than chemo for certain patients with advanced lung cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new drug – crizotinib (Xalkori) – may be more beneficial than chemotherapy for some lung cancer patients, according to new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This is good news for small minority of lung cancer patients whose cancers are likely to respond to this drug" - Kate Law, Cancer Research UK

Crizotinib is designed to treat patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose cancers contain an overactive version of a protein called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK). These account for approximately one in 20 NSCLC patients.

NSCLC accounts for almost 90 per cent of lung cancers in the UK.

“This is good news for a small minority of lung cancer patients whose cancers are likely to respond to this drug, and which could help them when their cancer has spread,” said Kate Law, director of clinical and population research at Cancer Research UK.

“These results suggest crizotinib could be used before chemotherapy as a first line treatment for these patients, rather than afterwards as is the case at the moment,” she added.

While the researchers say they do not know if the drug can increase overall survival, they found that it can extend the time before the cancer returns.

As well as extending this time, “crizotinib was associated with greater reduction in lung cancer symptoms and greater improvement in quality of life,” the authors wrote.

The trial involved 343 NSCLC patients with overactive ALK who were divided into two groups, one receiving crizotinib and the other standard chemotherapy with a drug called pemetrexed, and either carboplatin or cisplatin.

In the group treated with crizotinib, return of their cancer was delayed by almost 11 months on average, while in the chemotherapy treatment the disease returned after around seven months.

The drug is currently only available on the Cancer Drugs Fund in England and is highly expensive explained Law. “We hope to see the manufacturers and the NHS come to an agreement over how to make it available across the UK, to patients who need it,” she said.

“We also desperately need new treatments for people who won’t benefit from this drug, something we’re aiming to accelerate through studies like our MATRIX lung cancer trial.” she added.


  • Solomon, B., et al. (2014). First-Line Crizotinib versus Chemotherapy in ALK-Positive Lung Cancer New England Journal of Medicine, 371 (23), 2167-2177 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1408440