The Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug that targets genetic mutations in tumors, which could have a major impact on the way doctors treat more than a dozen different cancers.
Until now, most cancer drugs have treated tumors based on where they’re located in the body. This new drug, Larotrectinib, does it based on genetics.
“We’ve shown that it works in any cancer provided it has a specific mutation in a gene called ‘TRK’,” says Dr. David Hyman of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
That includes 17 different malignancies, mostly rare cancers, but also a small portion of salivary gland tumors, lung and breast cancers.
Dr. Hyman led the research. “When you can figure out at the genetic level what can makes a cancer tick, what’s driving its growth, and if you have a drug that effectively intervenes on that, then you can see dramatic and also immediate responses,” he says.
Patients with otherwise incurable cancers saw their tumors disappear, often within days. The drug is delivered in the form of a pill, sold under the brand name Vitrakvi, and will be taken twice a day.
Doctors say it’s a potential treatment for patients who have exhausted other options. They must be tested to see whether their tumors carry the mutation.
The new drug will not be inexpensive. Drug manufacturer Loxo Oncology announced the wholesale acquisition cost will be more than $32,000 a month. The company says it expects most insurers to cover the cost.