Lung Cancer is the deadliest type of cancer in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 132,000 people will die of the disease in 2021. Thanks to the constant progress of innovative research and new drug development, mortality rates of lung cancer — especially non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) — have reduced sharply in recent years. The reduction is attributed mainly to several novel treatment options that became available for patients.
Fifteen years ago, treatment options for lung cancer were very limited: There were only a few chemotherapy regimens available to choose from for oncologists. But today, in addition to those chemotherapy agents, multiple mutation-specific targeted therapy drugs and immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have been approved by the US FDA for the first-line treatment of lung cancer, either used as a single agent or in a combinational treatment regimen.
Therefore, targeted therapy and ICIs-based immunotherapy are the two major contributors responsible for the reduced lung cancer mortality rate and prolonged survival time of lung cancer patients.
At the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) virtual conference, encouraging data was presented showing that steady progress in developing targeted therapy and immunotherapy is being made in the following areas for the treatment of lung cancer:
- Survival benefits for advanced-stage NSCLC patients: Compared to chemotherapy alone, the first-line treatment by the ICIs drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab offered the benefit of overall survival to the patients with advanced-stage NSCLC. The long-term survival benefit is demonstrated by the four-year follow-up data from the clinical trial Checkmate 227.
- Survival benefits for patients with unresectable stage III NSCLC: the clinical trial PACIFIC’s five-year update data showed that compared with placebo groups, about 43% of patients who received treatment of ICIs drug durvalumab remain alive after five years, and approximately one-third of those patients have no evidence of disease progression.
- New drug targeting the NSCLC with KRAS-mutation was approved: sotorasib is a new treatment for NSCLC with the specific mutation KRAS G12C. This new targeted therapy drug was recently approved by the FDA in May 2021.
- The following targeted therapy drugs are being actively developed in clinical trials:
- Poziotinib, a new drug targeting the NSCLC with insertion mutation EGFRex20ins, has demonstrated durable benefit with patients whose cancers had progressed on chemotherapy.
- MET-alteration-targeting drugs capmatinib and tepotinib have shown promising data in their clinical trials for treating advanced NSCLC with MET mutations.
These new drugs will continue to bring down the mortality rates of lung cancer and further prolong the survival time of NSCLC patients. Innovative research advances are surely bringing the hope of making lung cancer a chronical disease one step closer to lung cancer patients around the world.
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- New treatments spur sharp reduction in lung cancer mortality rate. News Release, National Cancer Institute, Wednesday, August 12, 2020.
- ASCO 2021: Progress in Lung Cancer Treatment. LungEvity, June 11, 2021.
- FDA grants accelerated approval to sotorasib for KRAS G12C mutated NSCLC. Food and Drug Administration, May 28, 2021.