In the continuous fight against cancer, doctors, scientists, and researchers are working around the clock to come up with new, better cancer drugs and treatment options that are more successful and come with fewer side effects.
Recently, there has been a bigger push for more gene-targeted cancer drugs, which treat cancer based on genetics instead of location of the tumor. This allows for greater precision, specificity, and therefore success, of cancer treatments. Thanks to a bold pharmaceutical company and investment firm who are breaking the rules of cancer drug development, a new drug has been created that is more successful than current cancer treatments with fewer side effects: Enter Larotrectinib by Loxo Oncology.
Larotrectinib: The Gene-Targeted Cancer Drug that’s Saving Lives
Below is a video of Dr. David Hymen, one of the lead doctors involved with the development of Larotrectinib, explaining the results and efficacy of the latest clinical trial of the drug.
As a gene-targeted cancer drug, larotrectinib acts differently than most conventional cancer drugs. Instead of being selected for location in the body, tumors to be treated with larotrectinib were selected if they had a specific mutation, the tropomyosin receptor kinase gene (TRK). (1, 3, 5)
This means the drug has so far been used for 17 different kinds of tumors. These tumors were all caused by TRK, genetic changes in which normally unused, “turned off” genes become permanently connected or fused with another gene that’s not supposed to turn off, allowing cancer cells and tumors to proliferate and grow. (1, 3, 5)
Success Rate of Larotrectinib
So far, this new cancer drug has been largely successful, both in treating cancer and improving quality of life for the patients. (1, 3)
In a clinical trial of fifty people, 76% of the group had clear shrinkage of their tumors, and 79% of those tumors didn’t start growing or had new ones appear even after treatment. Those people are still on the drug. (1, 3)
Testimonials: Derek and Carina’s Stories
One of the patients who took part in the study, Derek Laurie, a tow truck driver from Rochester, New York, was diagnosed with stage four cancer and had a tumor pressing on his spine that was so large he could barely walk. Within a day of starting on larotrectinib he felt better, no longer needed a cane to walk within 72 hours, and in two weeks was out playing with his kids in the park and was able to eat normally. Not only did the drug save his life, but it didn’t make him sick and allowed him to live a normal life while in treatment. (1)
Even for those patients who did not survive, their quality of life was high throughout treatment. Larotrectinib was initially successful for 2 year old trial participant Carina with tumors on her face and mouth. Though her cancer returned, the little girl was able to play and be herself until she passed away. Read more about Derek and Carina’s stories here. (1)
The Future of Gene-Targeted Cancer Drugs
Dr. Howard Burris from the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville explains why the development of Larotrectinib is important not just for fighting TRK cancers but for its role in changing the way we develop cancer drugs.
The unfortunate reality of gene-targeted cancer drugs so far is that the effects don’t last and most need the help of secondary drugs to work fully. The problem with this is that it is often months and even years from the development of the primary drug before a secondary one is also created, tested, and ready for use. (1, 5)
This is how Loxo Oncology has broken the rules: Founder and Oncologist Joshua Bilenker went with an investing firm to develop lorotrectinib instead of the FDA or the National Cancer Institute to fund not only the development of lorotrectinib, but also a second-line drug, Loxo-195, that could be used in the first clinical trial along with lorotrectinib. (1, 3)
Larotrectinib is currently still in the final stages of development and Loxo Oncology plans to submit a New Drug Application (NDA) to the FDA in late 2017 or early 2018. (11)
The Future of Gene Targeted Cancer Drugs
Actually determining the success rate of the most common cancer drugs, primarily radiation and chemotherapy, is difficult, because this is highly dependent on the type of cancer and the stage the cancer is in when the patient starts treatment.
For example, radiation has been found to be 95% effective against most types of prostate cancer, however radiation may not even be an option for others, especially when dealing with pediatric cancers. (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8)
Chemotherapy can also be highly effective, however its cancer fighting abilities drastically decrease in later stages and may not be an option at all for some cancers, as it is not a localized treatment. (1, 2, 9, 10)
To top all of that off, both radiation and chemotherapy come with a host of horrible side effects, including anemia, bone density loss, heart damage, infertility, and they may even cause second cancers. Read here for more on the side effects of radiation therapy and here for the side effects of chemotherapy. (2, 7, 10)
Larotrectinib, on the other hand, has few to no side effects, allow patients to live happy, active, enjoyable lives despite being in treatment for cancer. (1, 3, 5)
A Positive Future for Gene Targeted Cancer Drugs
Larotrectinib, while it may still be undergoing more clinical trials, is paving the way not only for the development of other gene-targeted cancer drugs, but also to change the organization and the way our medical system funds developments in cancer treatments.