Putting lung cancer in the bullseye

September 20, 2012 | by Shawn Le

Lung cancer specialist Karen Reckamp, M.D., is tired of seeing what the disease does to her patients. She’s deep into researching targeted therapies for lung cancer so she can offer up better treatment options.

Photo of arrow in target bullseyeThe disease has been the leading cause of cancer deaths for a long time, but researchers like her are making some progress. Scientists recently announced, for example, that more than half of cases of a type of lung cancer have genetic mutations that might make them vulnerable to existing drugs or drugs in development.

They still need to figure out if hitting the mutations will stunt lung cancer, but the door of opportunity is open much wider than it has been before.

Along these lines, Reckamp recently presented a study at lung cancer conference in Chicago on a possible test to help choose the most effective therapy for patients with the most common form of lung cancer.

The test might predict which non-small-cell lung cancer patients would respond better to a combination treatment, rather than one drug alone.

It all comes down to a blood test called VeriStrat.

VeriStrat can help doctors identify lung cancers that have a lot of a particular protein. This protein is called epidermal growth factor receptor. Patients with these lung cancers can benefit from drugs that target that protein. But for a portion of those patients, adding another anti-inflammatory drug to the mix might help even more.

That drug is called celecoxib, a pain reliever often used by arthritis patients. Reckamp wanted to see if VeriStrat could help identify patients who’d benefit the most from combination treatment.

That’s important because there’s no point in giving medication that doesn’t help, especially if the drug causes additional side effects.

Reckamp’s study showed promise: VeriStrat helped identify certain patients whose genetic mutations made their cancers more vulnerable to the dual treatment.

Of course, additional testing is always needed — to confirm findings, to refine the tests to be more helpful, to see if others cancers with EGFR overexpression can be tested this way. But this is potential good news for a cancer that’s been needing it.

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