In the United States, lung cancer is the leading killer of both males and females. In 2012, according to the American Lung Association website, some 160,000 Americans were expected to die of the disease. While there is no completely effective cure available yet, researchers are getting closer.
A new option for a specific type of lung cancer is Xalkori, which is being developed by Pfizer. The drug was initially introduced in 2011 and proved to be a successful option for patients who had previously received chemotherapy. However, a recent study has found that it is also a good option as a first-line treatment that is actually more effective than chemo.
Mace Rothenberg, chief medical officer for Pfizer Oncology, said that the new studies are important because, “they demonstrate, for the first time, that Xalkori is superior to standard chemotherapy doublet regimens in prolonging survival without progression as first-line treatment.” The two trials “collectively establish Xalkori as a standard of care in both the first and second-line setting for patients with ALK-positive advanced NSCLC.”
Tony Mok, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong added that the new studies “highlight the importance of not only testing a tissue specimen for the presence of biomarkers at the time of diagnosis in all patients with advanced stage NSCLC, but actually having those results in hand before determining the most appropriate treatment option.” He continued, “It is clear that a multidisciplinary collaborative approach to molecular testing is required in order to deliver those results on time, which in fact is the foundation of personalized medicine in lung cancer.”
While the new drug should excel at keeping cancer patients healthy, it may also be vital for Pfizer, from a financial standpoint. The pharmaceutical industry, like others, is highly competitive, and manufacturers are always looking to improve their cash flow. While the company’s revenue last year was still a whopping $51 billion, that number was down $3 billion from the year before.
As Arlene Weintraub notes, “Turning Xalkori into a blockbuster will be vital for Pfizer, which has suffered lately from expiring patents on top sellers such as its cholesterol drug Lipitor.”
There are a number of different causes of lung cancer, and treating specific types is a must. Even asbestos can cause the disease, and there are, perhaps surprisingly, twice as many cases of asbestos-related cancer than mesothelioma. But regardless of the specific cause, powerful drugs, like Xalkori, are needed to help patients stay healthy.
Pfizer has made a point to emphasize the fact that the drug is meant to help patients and not — at least primarily — be developed only for profit. However, if early indications mean anything, it could accomplish both.