Erlotinib improves progression-free survival in non-small cell lung cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

The cancer drug erlotinib triples how long certain patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) survive without their disease progressing, according to researchers at Tongji University in China.

Data published in The Lancet Oncology suggests that patients taking the drug whose tumours contained faults in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene had 13.1 months without tumours progressing. This compared with 4.6 months for those who had the standard chemotherapy regimen of gemcitabine and carboplatin.

The researchers also found that of the 165 patients in the clinical trial, those on erlotinib - also known as Tarceva - experienced fewer side effects. Erlotinib is one of a group of drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).

The authors say: "We recommend that EGFR TKIs be regarded as the first-line treatment of choice for this subgroup of patients and chemonaive patients should undergo EGFR mutation testing wherever possible."

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "We've known for some time that people with a specific gene fault are more likely to have a good response to drugs such as erlotinib and gefitinib.

"These faults are more common in patients in the Far East.

"This is another example of how understanding the molecular changes in cancer cells can be used to guide treatment for patients as we move into the era of more personalised medicine."

Copyright Press Association 2011


  • Zhou, C. et al. Erlotinib versus chemotherapy as first-line treatment for patients with advanced EGFR mutation-positive non-small-cell lung cancer (OPTIMAL, CTONG-0802): a multicentre, open-label, randomised, phase 3 study. Lancet Oncology DOI:10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70184-X