Study finds Lilly cancer drug lengthens patients' lives
A drug developed by Eli Lilly and Co. to treat a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure lengthened the lives of patients who took the drug in clinical trials, researchers said Monday. The findings involving the new drug, Alimta, heartened cancer researchers because pleural mesothelioma has proven resistant to treatment and no drugs are approved in the United States to treat it. "This is an historic day. Patients and their families who deal with this disease now have a clear path forward," said Dr. Nicholas J. Vogelzang, director of University of Chicago Cancer Research Center.
The clinical trial results were presented during a meeting of oncology researchers in Orlando, Fla. Alimta is in the last of three phases of human testing for mesothelioma. The dramatic results came in the largest-ever patient study for mesothelioma patients. The study of 456 patients showed that those given Alimta, plus a commonly used chemotherapy drug and vitamins, lived for 13 months after diagnosis of the cancer. That compared with seven months for those who received only the standard chemotherapy cisplatin and vitamins. "That is a very, very striking difference for a disease considered hopeless," Vogelzang said. Patients taking Alimta during the yearlong study also suffered less pain and had fewer breathing difficulties, said Dr. Paolo Paoletti, a Lilly researcher who is leading Lilly's development of Alimta.
Lilly plans to file in 2003 for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market Alimta for the lung cancer. It could win approval as early as next year. Mesothelioma is diagnosed in only 2,500 Americans and 5,000 Europeans a year, but its prevalence is rising as more people are found to be exposed to the once commonly sold asbestos that causes the cancer. Most people die within nine months of diagnosis.