Data could personalize use of Iressa, Tarceva

Cancer treatment is fast becoming a personal affair. Two new studies out today show that lung cancer drugs work best in patients with specific characteristics, laying a foundation for pre-treatment screening. In one study, AstraZeneca's pill Iressa worked better than chemo in East Asians whose tumors had specific mutations in genes for the epidermal growth factor receptor, Reuters reports. Another trial showed that Europeans with EGFR mutations did better on Roche's Tarceva than other patients did.

Data like this could pave the way for more personalized treatment of the disease. By targeting drugs to the people in which they work best, patients could get better treatment. Because many of the cutting-edge cancer meds are quite costly, eliminating their use in patients unlikely to benefit could also save a lot of money.

Not to mention the fact that certain drugs could find new life in targeting smaller groups of patients. As you know, Iressa has suffered because it works in less than one-fifth of lung cancer patients. But if that one-fifth could be identified ahead of time, Iressa would have an important niche to fill.

"Given the fact that the cost of these drugs is exceedingly high ... I think we have to use them in selective subtypes, the ones most likely to respond," Dr. Adi Gazdar of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who wrote a commentary on the findings, told Reuters. "If you can select out the right subtype, that is an important finding, and an important cost savings as well."

- read the Reuters piece