Erbitux, KRAS gene star at ASCO

As expected, headlines have been spewing from the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting like ash from a volcano. And as promised, we bring you a roundup of the latest and greatest on using existing drugs against cancer. Here goes:

  • A growing body of evidence suggests that patients with a non-mutant form of the KRAS gene respond better to EGFR inhibitors such as ImClone's Erbitux and Amgen's Vectibix; you can get a link to the 300-odd KRAS hits from an ASCO search at the WSJ Health Blog. (By the way, just yesterday, the E.U.'s drug regulators recommended approval for Erbitux as a first-line colon cancer treatment--but only for those with the non-mutated KRAS gene.)
  • The Novartis bone drug Zometa surprised folks by helping prevent a recurrence of breast cancer--and not just in cutting spread of the cancer to the bones. Among those who took the drug in addition to chemo, 6 percent died or had a recurrence within five years of treatment, compared with 9 percent who got chemo alone.
  • A high dose of Pfizer's painkiller Celebrex may help keep smokers from developing lung cancer; Celebrex blocks the COX-2 enzyme that causes inflammation, which besides causing arthritis pain, has also been linked with cancer. Researchers said the findings need to be confirmed with other studies.
  • Despite all the good news on Erbitux at the meeting, analysts said they don't think growth in that drug will necessarily take away from Genentech's Avastin, which is already entrenched as a first-line treatment. Among the patients most likely to jump at the prospect of Erbitux are lung cancer sufferers who can't take Avastin because of the risk of side effects.

Stay tuned: The meeting goes on through today, so we'll have more updates tomorrow. 

- check out the Merck KGaA release
- see the Health Blog KRAS  item
- find the WSJ post on Zometa
- read the Celebrex story in the Washington Post
- get the Avastin-Erbitux comparison in the New York Times

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