Bristol-Myers Tests Sprycel in Lung Cancer in New Study

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. started a new trial of leukemia drug Sprycel in patients with lung cancer after the medicine appeared to help cure one man.

Among 34 patients given Sprycel in an earlier study, one man has remained cancer-free for four and a half years, according to research published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Only 2 percent of patients survive that long with advanced lung cancer. An analysis showed the man was the only one from the trial they could find that had a type of mutation, called BRAF-Y472C, that Sprycel targets.

Bristol-Myers now plans to test Sprycel in patients with non-small cell lung cancer who have the same mutation as well as another susceptible to the drug called DDR2. About 4 percent of lung cancer patients have the BRAF mutation, which is more common in melanoma and thyroid cancer, said Faye Johnson at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and primary investigator for the new Bristol-Myers trial.

“We’ve got to figure out how this happened and do it again,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “We’re not looking for subtle responses; we’re looking for profound responses.”

The findings show how medicines designed to target gene mutations in one cancer can be applied to other malignancies with the same abnormality. These results have spurred drugmakers such as Bristol-Myers to focus their cancer research on so-called targeted therapies.

Patient Subsets

“Treating lung cancer the same way doesn’t work for everybody,” said Johnson. “Now that the molecular biology is really catching up with the disease, you’re going to see more and more treatments that are geared to specific subsets of patients.”

Lung cancer is the top killer among cancers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Bristol-Myers’ new study will examine 73 lung cancer patients and follow them for 24 months to see how their tumors respond. It should have early results within six months, Johnson said.

Sprycel is approved to treat the blood cancers chronic myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It generated $803 million in 2011.

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