Drugs for HER2-linked breast cancer may work against lung cancer

April 25, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

The HER2 protein is most well-known for its link to breast cancer, but it's tied to a small portion of lung cancers as well. Now researchers have found that drugs that fight HER2-linked breast cancers may be effective against HER2-sensitive lung cancers as well.

 

Screening for and targeting HER2 (colored in beige in the above rendering and bound to Herceptin, in blue), a protein traditionally identified with breast cancers, may be beneficial for lung cancer patients, a new study says. Screening for and targeting HER2 (colored in beige in the above rendering and bound to Herceptin, in blue), a protein traditionally identified with breast cancers, may be beneficial for lung cancer patients, a new study says.

 

The study, published ahead of print on April 22 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, involved 16 patients diagnosed with Stage IV HER2-mutated nonsmall cell lung cancer. After conventional chemotherapy, the patients were given HER2-targeted drugs — including Herceptin — and were monitored for disease progression. Drugs that target HER2 work by shutting down production of the cancer-promoting protein, which can hit overdrive due to a gene mutation.

The scientists reported that patients on either the HER2-targeted drug afatinib or on Herceptin-based combinations exhibited a disease control rate — either stabilization or partial remission of the disease — of 100 and 93 percent, respectively. Furthermore, those on the HER2-targeted drugs had a median progression-free survival of over five months.

Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-chair of City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, told MedPageToday that, although only 2 percent of patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer are positive for HER2 mutations, the numbers add up. As she pointed out, more than 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.{C}

Reckamp, who was not involved in this study, said the findings demonstrate HER2-targeted therapies' effectiveness.

"When we target these driver mutations, the tumor stops [growing], and there is a significant benefit for patients ... when they might otherwise have advanced disease," she said.

As for the authors, they wrote that “this study ... reinforces the importance of screening for HER2 mutations in lung adenocarcinomas and suggests the potential efficacy of HER2-targeted drugs in this population.”

Afatinib is currently under priority review by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of advanced nonsmall cell lung cancers, and Herceptin is currently approved to treat breast and gastric cancers.

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