According to drug maker AstraZeneca, if one drug doesn’t work on a particular disease, try combining it with another to see if it’s more effective. AstraZeneca is now combining two different medicines in an attempt to combat lung cancer. Specifically, AstraZeneca’s lung cancer cocktail is attempting to weaken lung cancer so that the body’s own immune system will have a decent shot of ridding the cancer on its own.
Sound unlikely? Sound crazy? Not as crazy as you might think.
The reason AstraZeneca is taking this new multi-medicine approach is because of research conducted by some of their rivals. AstraZeneca saw that research was concluding that single medicine approaches to dealing with lung cancer was only working some of the time with some patients. Therefore, in an effort to find a combination that affects all patients every single time, AstraZeneca is racing competitors like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche Holding AG to find the right combination of medicines that will be the silver bullet for those with newly diagnosed cases of lung cancer.
Just last month, a single medicine treatment called Opdivo, created by Bristol-Myer’s, failed to successfully treat a wide range of individuals with early stage lung cancer. It has since been determined that single medicine treatments can be effective on tumors with high levels of something known as PD-L1. However, when levels of PD-L1 are lower in a cancer tumor, single medicine treatments don’t work nearly as well as multi-medicine treatments.
With all of the above in mind, AstraZeneca is in the process of testing a PD-L1 blocker called durvalumab. Durvalumab acts as a checkpoint of sorts on certain cancer cells that disguise themselves to hide from the body’s own immune system. AstraZeneca is attempting to combine durvalumab with another of their products, tremelimumab, an immune oncology drug. AstraZeneca is hoping that the combination will be an extremely effective treatment for individuals with non-small cell lung cancer, which happens to be the most common form of lung cancer. So how long will we have to wait for this new lung cancer cocktail? Not long. AstraZeneca says that they will be filing for approval of the new combination drug in the United States, Japan, and Europe as early as next year.
The chief medical officer at AstraZeneca, Sean Bohen, talked about the need for these new multi-medicine treatments.
“It is possible, provided that the data supports filing, that we would be first. There is a huge unmet need, and as a result, a good market opportunity.”
According to the World Health Organization, lung cancer wiped out over 1.59 million people in 2012. Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the United States, with an upcoming 158,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. estimated for this year.
Lung cancer, as an overview, is a malignant lung tumor that possesses uncontrolled cell growth in the tissues of the lung. The cancer, if untreated, grows beyond the lung by the process of metastasis into other areas of the body. There are two primary types of lung cancer, a small-cell lung carcinoma, and the more common kind that AstraZeneca is attempting to treat with their multi-medicine treatment, that being non-small cell lung carcinoma. The most common symptoms of lung cancer include weight loss, shortness of breath, chest pains and coughing — including coughing up blood. The problem is that usually by the time these symptoms present themselves, the cancer is too far gone into the body to be successfully treated. A whopping majority (85 percents) of all instances of lung cancer are brought about by long term tobacco smoking, and experts say that avoiding smoking and air pollution in general can drastically cut your chances of getting lung cancer.
Knowing just how deadly and prevalent lung cancer is in the United States and around the world, it’s a collective hope that AstraZeneca, or one of the other major drug companies, can finally find a catch-all treatment that would work in most cases.
[Feature Photo Courtesy of the American Cancer Society via Getty Images]