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Hong Kong cancer therapy

New lung cancer drug can prolong lives of late-stage patients, study led by Hong Kong expert finds

Renowned oncologist Tony Mok says US Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the use of experimental drug dacomitinib ‘in the near future’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:02am

A global study led by renowned Hong Kong oncologist Tony Mok Shu-kam has found that an experimental drug could prolong the lives of patients with late-stage lung cancer.

The study, sponsored by pharmaceutical company Pfizer, involved tests on 452 patients at 71 medical institutions worldwide. The results of the new drug dacomitinib were compared with the currently used Iressa or gefitinib, manufactured by competitor AstraZeneca.

About 80 per cent of the patients were Asian, with between 10 and 20 from Hong Kong. The team of 16 doctors from across the world, including mainland China, Japan, Spain and Singapore, found patients on the experimental drug had a higher chance of survival.

It was found that patients with the terminal illness lived an average of 34 months from the first dose of the new drug, while the figure was 27 for those on existing medication.

Thirty months after the first dose of dacomitinib, only one sufferer of advanced non-small cell lung cancer – a common form of the disease – developed brain tumours compared with 11 patients on Iressa.

But the new drug also resulted in side effects such as skin rash and diarrhoea.

Mok, chairman of the department of clinical oncology at Chinese University’s faculty of medicine, said the US Food and Drug Administration was expected to approve the use of dacomitinib “in the near future”.

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Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for 80 per cent of all lung cancers, and half of those diagnosed with the illness have a genetic mutation that makes them more susceptible to getting the form of cancer. There are many patients who are women, non-smokers and below the age of 65.

Mok presented results of the latest study at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, held from June 1 to 5 in Chicago.

The findings were published on June 4 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Chinese University, in announcing the results, said the new drug “should be considered as one of the standard treatment options for [advanced non-small cell] lung cancer patients with the genetic mutation”.

The university also noted that lung cancer is the most deadly of all cancers, and the second-most common form of the disease in the city.

A total of 4,748 new cases of lung cancer was diagnosed in 2015, according to the Hong Kong Cancer Registry.

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The cancer is difficult to diagnose and when symptoms appear, patients would usually already be in the advanced stage, said oncologist Dr Daniel Chua Tsin-tien, who is not connected with the study.

Chua, an associate director of the Comprehensive Oncology Centre at the private Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital, said the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) by Merck, was recently shown to increase survival to 30 months for patients in the advanced stage of non-small cell lung cancer.

Asked how patients should choose treatments, Mok said: “There are patients who are suitable for targeted therapy but there are those who are more suitable for immunotherapy.”

It did not mean one form of treatment was superior to the other, he said.

He added that he believed relatively younger patients would prefer dacomitinib as they “actually want to have a longer survival rate compared with an elderly patient who is more fragile”.