Gene study finds tumor-cell flaw possibly vulnerable to Pfizer, AZ cancer meds

More evidence that drugs and diagnostics will be playing together often: Researchers sequencing genes in colon and lung tumors found mutations that could be targeted with existing drugs. The study even identified a previously unknown genetic abnormality that could be attacked with Pfizer's ($PFE) Sutent or AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Caprelsa--so one of the scientists wants to start testing Sutent in selected lung cancer patients by year's end.

The Nature Medicine study--which teamed Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers with the gene-test maker Foundation Medicine--looked at 145 oncologic genes in colon and lung tumors. Slightly more than half of the colon cancers and 71% of the lung cancers had mutations that could be attacked with currently marketed drugs or treatments now in human trials, Bloomberg reports.

The new genetic change involves KIF5B-RET, formed when two unrelated genes fuse together. The mutation triggers a protein called RET that's usually not found in lung cells. Pasi Janne, co-author and lung cancer specialist at Dana-Farber, told Bloomberg that cells with KIF5B-RET died when treated with Sutent or Caprelsa, which both block RET.

A Pfizer spokeswoman told the news service the company knows about the newly identified aberration and "believes the data are interesting," while an AstraZeneca spokeswoman said the company "is constantly alert to new developments and research in the science of oncology and we review relevant, peer-reviewed studies for what they might mean for patients and drug development."

- see the press release
- read the Bloomberg piece