‘Revolutionary’ new class of cancer drugs approved

A new cancer drug that can treat a wide range of tumours has been approved for use in Europe.

The drug, called larotrectinib is tumour-agnostic, which means it doesn’t focus on where the cancer is growing in the body as long as it has a specific genetic abnormality inside.

It was investigated in clinical trials across 29 different histologies of solid tumours including lung, thyroid, melanoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumours, colon, soft tissue sarcomas, salivary gland and infantile fibrosarcoma. The compound has also shown efficacy in primary CNS tumours, as well as patients with brain metastases.

“It is a really exciting thing, as it works across a range of cancers. It’s not confined to one,” Dr Julia Chisholm, a children’s cancer consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital, told the BBC.

It 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.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Chisholm said:

“The beauty is it targets the abnormality.

“There are a number of biochemical pathways that are common in many different tumour types.

“I think this is the way things are going and this is about better outcomes, curing more patients and producing kinder treatments with reduced side-effects.”

Dr Brendon Gray, Medical Director at Bayer, said:

“As the first tumour agnostic medicine licensed in Europe, larotrectinib represents a real shift in cancer treatment and creates an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate it is at the forefront of genomic medicine.”

The decision by European regulators does not mean it will be instantly available for patients in the UK.

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.


Text references

Gallagher, J – BBC News. (2019). ‘Revolutionary’ new class of cancer drugs approved. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49798628. Last Accessed: 25 September 2019.

Hospital Healthcare Europe. (2019). Larotrectinib receives first tumour-agnostic license in EU. Accessible: http://www.hospitalhealthcare.com/editors-pick/larotrectinib-receives-first-tumour-agnostic-licence-eu. Last Accessed: 25 September 2019.