Asbestos-Induced Lung Cancer Responds to Eli Lilly Experimental
The Indianapolis Star
An experimental Eli Lilly and Co. drug lengthened the lives of patients with cancer of the lung lining that's mainly caused by asbestos. The study finding, released Monday, heartened cancer researchers because the deadly cancer 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 the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center.
The dramatic results came in the largest-ever patient study for cancer of the lung lining, called pleural mesothelioma. The study of 456 patients showed that those given the Lilly drug Alimta, plus a commonly used chemotherapy drug and vitamins, lived for 13 months after diagnosis of the cancer. That compared to 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 from less pain and had fewer breathing difficulties, said Dr. Paolo Paoletti, a Lilly researcher who is team leader for Alimta's development at Lilly's Indianapolis labs.
Alimta could be on the market next year. Lilly plans to file in 2003 for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market Alimta for the lung cancer. Alimta is in the last of three phases of human testing for that cancer. Cancer of the lung lining is rare, 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. Lilly also is testing Alimta on other cancers, including that of the pancreas, where Alimta shows early promise.
When Alimta was combined with the marketed Lilly drug Gemzar and given to patients with pancreatic cancer, a third of them were alive after one year, a new Lilly study shows. That compares to an 18 percent one-year survival rate generally among pancreatic cancer patients treated with Gemzar alone, Lilly said.
The molecule that is Alimta came to Lilly from a Princeton University researcher. It works like three or more cancer drugs in one, by targeting multiple enzymes that cancer cells need to take up folic acid and multiply.