SATURDAY, May 31, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new "targeted"
therapy might help extend the lives of patients with advanced lung
cancer who have a relapse after their initial treatment, a clinical
The drug, ramucirumab, improved survival by more than a month
when combined with standard chemotherapy, researchers are scheduled
to report Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology
annual meeting in Chicago.
Ramucirumab fights cancer by preventing the creation of new
blood vessels in tumors, robbing them of needed nutrients and
The study found that median overall survival in patients with
advanced non-small cell lung cancer was 10.5 months for those
taking ramucirumab plus chemotherapy, compared with 9.1 months for
patients who received a placebo, or dummy drug, with their
The significance of this advance may be subject to debate.
Currently, very limited chemotherapy options exist for patients
whose lung cancer returns, said study lead author Dr. Maurice
Perol, head of thoracic oncology at the Cancer Research Center of
Lyon in France.
Those options provide relatively poor results, shrinking tumors
only about 10 percent and extending patient survival 7 to 9 months,
"This is the first treatment in approximately a decade to improve the outcome of patients in the second-line setting," Perol said. "The survival improvement is significant because patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer typically have a very short survival time following second-line therapy."
The findings should be considered preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed medical journal. Also, if the drug receives U.S.
Food and Drug Administration approval, doctors and patients will
have to weigh the effectiveness of the treatment against what's
expected to be its enormous cost.
The clinical trial involved 1,253 patients with stage IV
non-small cell lung cancer that had progressed despite standard
chemotherapy. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of
All of the patients were treated with the chemotherapy drug
docetaxel. Some then were randomly given ramucirumab as well, while
others received a placebo.
Adding ramucirumab improved the effectiveness of chemotherapy,
the investigators found, with nearly 23 percent of patients
experiencing tumor shrinkage compared with 13.5 percent of those
who received placebo.
Ramucirumab also improved survival against all types of
non-small cell lung cancer, indicating that it could be useful in
treating all patients battling a recurrence of this type of lung
cancer, Perol said.
The progression-free survival periods for ramucirumab patients
was 4.5 months, versus 3 months in the placebo group.
The experimental drug came with few serious side effects. "There
was no increase in adverse events or in pulmonary hemorrhage
[bleeding from the lung], which is one of the greatest potential
risks," Perol said.
The findings from the clinical trial don't represent a huge
advance over current treatment, said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior
medical advisor for the American Lung Association.
However, ramucirumab does show promise as part of a new class of
targeted therapies, he added.
"I find this drug interesting because it represents an attempt to step beyond the usual cytotoxic agents. But on its own, it's not a remarkable breakthrough," Edelman said.
"Some people will have an extra year. Other people will have nothing," Edelman said. "And it won't be cheap. The new biologics are expensive. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars for cost of treatment. These are complicated decisions."
For more on treatment of recurring lung cancer, visit the
U.S. National Cancer Institute.
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