Pfizer Inc.’s experimental drug to treat a type of lung cancer appeared to wipe out a rare form of lymphoma in two severely ill patients in test cases reported by doctors.
Within a month of starting the drug, called crizotinib, scans found no trace of cancerous lesions in either patient, according to a letter written by Italian doctors and published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Cancer remained undetectable six months later. The patients, who had a rare malignancy called anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, previously failed to keep tumors at bay after multiple treatments.
Crizotinib in lung cancer is the leading candidate among more than 20 new tumor-fighting medicines that New York-based Pfizer is developing to help offset the $11 billion in revenue at risk to generic copies of its Lipitor cholesterol pill. It’s the first of three drugs the company has said it plans to submit for approval this year, followed by axitinib for kidney cancer and bosutinib for chronic myeloid leukemia.
Crizotinib may have annual sales of $755 million by 2015, according to the average estimate of four analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. In a study presented at a cancer conference in June, the drug reduced tumor size in 57 percent of patients and stopped progression of the disease in 87 percent.
The lymphomas reported today share a genetic defect in a gene called ALK that is thought to make some lung cancer vulnerable to crizotinib. The gene flaw occurs in about 5 percent of lung cancer patients and a majority of patients with the large-cell lymphomas. Pfizer is studying crizotinib in lymphomas, brain tumors and additional cancers with the defect.
Today’s journal letter was submitted by Carlo Gambacorti- Passerini, Cristina Messa and Enrico Pogliani, doctors in Monza, Italy. Their patients had failed standard treatments with multiple types of chemotherapy before being tested with crizotinib, the doctors wrote.
About 65,500 people in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the National Cancer Institute. Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, known as ALCL, accounts for about 3 percent of adult cases and 10 percent to 30 percent of childhood cases, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
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