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FDA Approval Could Mean New Choice for Mesothelioma Patients


A newly-approved drug for late-stage lung cancer may have implications for people with malignant mesothelioma, as well.

The FDA recently announced its approval of afatinib, a drug which blocks epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expression in cancer cells. Many types of cancer, including about half mesothelioma cases, express a specific type of mutation on the EGFR gene that causes tumors to grow even faster. Because of this, EGFR has been a focus for biomarker research in mesothelioma, as well as in a number of other cancers.

In clinical trials, afatinib (brand name Gilotrif), significantly extended progression-free survival in non-small cell lung cancer patients versus the more common pemetrexed/cisplatin chemotherapy combination. Over a 12-month period, the progression-free survival of lung cancer patients on afatinib was 47%. This compares to a progression-free survival rate of just 22% for patients on the standard drugs. And the benefits applied regardless of gender, age, race, performance status or smoking history.

The approval of afatinib is potentially good news for mesothelioma patients who have the EGFR mutation. Pemetrexed/cisplatin is the most common chemotherapy combination for mesothelioma, but many patients fail to respond to this treatment. While afatinib, which falls into a new class of drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors, has not been tested specifically in mesothelioma patients, its approval offers the possibility of an alternative treatment for EGFR-expressing mesothelioma patients.

Because afatinib is specifically tailored for cancers that have the EGFR mutation, it offers a more tailored treatment approach, which may be more effective. Afatinib was approved along with a test designed to screen for the EGFR mutation.


“FDA approves new treatment for a type of late-stage lung cancer”, Press Release, July 12, 2013, FDA website.
Carroll, John, “Boehringer celebrates FDA OK of lung cancer drug atatinib”, July 12, 2013, Fierce Biotech website.

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