Victory over lung cancer without recurrence: a new discovery by Israeli scientists will help a broad category of patients
Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have presented the results of a new study indicating that a large category of lung cancer patients can be effectively treated with a drug previously approved for combating other types of cancer. Moreover, this treatment approach offers the potential to prevent disease recurrence in the long term.
The primary cause of lung cancer is smoking, yet it is known that the disease also affects individuals who have never smoked. More than one in ten cases of lung cancer is caused by mutations in the EGFR gene, with a majority of these cases occurring in non-smoking patients. In the past decade, a new generation of drugs has been developed for the effective and safe treatment of this patient group, but these treatments offer only short-term benefits. After about a year, tumors develop resistance to treatment and cancer returns.
In a study published in the scientific journal Cell Reports Medicine, researchers from the Weizmann Institute focused on a treatment approach that could prevent disease recurrence in a large group of lung cancer patients.
“We discovered a potential biomarker that could change the way lung cancer patients are treated worldwide,” says Professor Yosef Yarden, an Israeli award-winning cancer research scientist and the leader of the new study. “Similar to how specific mutations in the BRCA gene predict how breast and ovarian cancer patients will respond to drugs, this new biomarker could also provide personalized treatment with enhanced chances of success for a specific group of lung cancer patients.”
EGFR, or epidermal growth factor receptor, is a protein in the cell membrane that receives signals from the surrounding environment, instructing the cell to grow and divide. Mutations in the gene encoding this receptor can lead to uncontrolled cell division and the development of cancerous tumors. The researchers classified lung tumors according to the types of EGFR gene mutations and focused on the L858R mutation, as it is found in about 40% of patients with EGFR mutations. This common mutation causes a change in one amino acid in the receptor’s sequence, enough to trigger serious disease.
The researchers used a drug called “Arbitux,” based on an antibody, to prevent the connection of EGFR receptors, inhibiting their growth-promoting signals. This drug had been developed from studies by Professor Yarden and the late Professor Michael Sela, and was approved by the FDA in 2006 for use in colorectal cancer and head and neck cancer.
Testing the effectiveness of “Arbitux” on lung cancer tumors with the L858R mutation, the researchers used tumor samples from human patients transplanted into mice, as well as other models. Tumors treated with “Arbitux” saw reductions and, remarkably, no disease recurrence was observed even in the medium to long term.
The next step involves clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of “Arbitux” treatment in human lung cancer patients with the L858R mutation. The researchers hope that if clinical trials replicate the current data, transitioning from the lab to the clinic could be relatively swift, given that “Arbitux” is already approved for treating other types of cancer. The L858R biomarker holds potential for effective and personalized treatment for a significant group of lung cancer patients, offering a real opportunity to save lives.