New class of cancer drugs approved for use in Europe
A “revolutionary” new class of cancer drug that can treat a wide range of tumours has been approved for use in Europe for the first time.
Tumour-agnostic drugs ignore the location of where the cancer is growing in the body, providing has a specific genetic abnormality inside.
UK doctors testing the drugs has herald the new class as revolutionary as the approach has the potential to cure more patients and cut side-effects.
The drug that has been approved is called larotrectinib.
Charlotte Stevenson, a two-year-old from Belfast, was one of the first patients to benefit, she was diagnosed with infantile fibrosarcoma, a cancer of the body’s connective tissue. Her treatment commenced with larotrectinib as part of a clinical trial at the Royal Marsden Sutton, in London, for the past year.
The tumour was caused by a genetic abnormality known as an NTRK gene fusion, where one part of the DNA accidentally merged with another and the alteration in the blueprint for the body led to the growth of her cancer.
However, NTRK gene fusions are not unique to sarcomas, they also appear in some brain, kidney, thyroid and other cancers.
The use of the new class marks a move away from treating a “breast cancer” or “bowel cancer” or a “lung cancer” and towards precision medicine that takes advantage of the genetic make-up of each patient’s tumour.
The decision by European regulators does not mean it will be instantly available for patients in the UK.
But earlier this year, NHS England described tumour-agnostic drugs as a “revolutionary” and “exciting new breakthrough” in cancer and said preparations were under way to ensure patients were given access to them.
“The benefits for patients – in particular children – of being able to treat many different types of cancers with one drug is potentially huge, helping them to lead longer, healthier lives,” NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said at the time.
Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said the drugs were “exciting”.
He added: “The NHS will need to ensure the right genomic testing is available across the country to identify patients who could benefit so it’s good that the NHS is already thinking about how to get this to patients with cancer as soon as possible.”
Dr Brendon Gray, from Bayer, the drug company that developed larotrectinib, said: “As the first tumour-agnostic medicine approved in Europe, larotrectinib represents a real shift in cancer treatment.”