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YOUR HEALTH: Using gene therapy for lung cancer

A new tool is giving those with advanced lung cancer a fighting chance

ORLANDO, Fla. — Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. 

The five-year survival rate for advanced non-small cell lung cancer, that has spread to distant areas of the body, is seven percent.

"I say cancer is a disease of your DNA. You have to interrogate the DNA," said Dr. Mark Socinski, Executive Medical Director at the AdventHealth Cancer Institute.

Doctors believe the key to increasing survival rates for advanced lung cancer patients is in the genes.

"Twenty years ago, lung cancer was a one size fits all," said Dr. Socinski.

"Now it's a very heterogeneous population of patients based on various DNA alterations."

And one of those DNA alterations is the MET-Exon-14 Skip mutation in non-small-cell lung cancer. 

Dr. Socinski calls the mutation an oncogenic driver.

"Meaning that it causes the cancer to grow. Knowing this, there are specific targeted therapies that can inhibit the growth of the cancer."

Dr. Socinski uses genomic testing to search for the MET-Exon-14 Skip mutation and other mutations in his patients. 

He believes genetic testing may allow doctors to pinpoint an exact target to attack the cancer.

"That process of coupling a target with a targeted therapy makes it much more effective and much more rapidly approved by the FDA."

Genetic Testing for Lung Cancer

Changes in lung cancer cells occur due to harmful genetic mutations in the DNA of the cell. 

When a mutated cell multiplies, the newly formed cells carry the same dangerous mutations. 

These can occur when a cell is exposed to toxins or when the body makes an error during cell division. 

This is where genetic testing is playing a larger role in lung cancer care. 

Tests are allowing to identify specific genetic changes in the tumor cells that may be treatable with targeted therapies. 

Among the many benefits of targeted therapies is that they can block growth of cancer cells without harming healthy cells. 

Genetic changes account for about 80-85% of non-small cell lung cancer and in about 10-15% of small lung cell cancers.

The use of Targeted Therapies

The FDA approved Lumakras as the first treatment for adult patients with non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors have a specific type of genetic mutation called KRAS G12C, and who have received one prior systemic therapy.

"KRAS mutations have long been considered resistant to drug therapy, representing a true unmet need for patients with certain types of cancer," said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA's Oncology Center of Excellence and acting director of the Office of Oncologic Diseases in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

"Today's approval represents a significant step towards a future where more patients will have a personalized treatment approach." 

The Accelerated Approval pathway was used for Lumakras, where the FDA approves drugs for serious conditions where there is unmet medical need and a drug is shown to have certain effects that are reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit to patients. 

Further study is required to verify clinical benefits of Lumakras.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.