Results from three recent genome-sequencing trials have provided a revolutionary insight into the deadly disease.
Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other form of the disease. Fewer than 20% of the 1.6 million cases diagnosed across the globe every year are still alive five years later.
The trend in new studies focuses on personalised treatment. Genome-sequencing trials are used to match the best possible treatment to the specific genetic make up of a patient's tumours.
In the latest trials, researchers analysed tumour tissue samples from 183 patients suffering from lung adenocarcinomas, 178 suffering from lung squamous cell carcinomas and drilled-down studies of 17 tumours from smokers and non-smokers.
Author of two of the studies, Ramaswamy Govindan from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, said:
"For the first time, instead of looking through a keyhole we are getting a penthouse panoramic view,"
He added that previous studies had already looked more closely at personalised treatment but focused on a small number of genes. In contrast, the recent studies gleaned data across an entire genome.
Professor Govindan, who specialises in Medical Oncology believes that these kinds of "cataloguing studies" will revolutionise the way lung cancer clinical trials are designed. Instead of huge, expensive trials that feature a diverse collection of mutations, smaller studies will laser-down into patients' tumours according to their specific mutation. Medical experts are expecting this tailored therapy to be more beneficial for patients suffering from cancer.
The advances of such studies are clear - generic treatments tend to have a far greater number of side-effects as they are simply designed to kill any rapidly dividing cells rather than only attacking the ones spreading the disease. Furthermore, data from the targeted studies not only forms the basis of new treatments, they can cast light on those ones already on the market.
Drugs that treat adenocarcinoma, the strain behind 40 per cent of lung cancer cases, have already been approved. However, there are no approved drugs for treating another very common form of cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. Lung cancer clinical trials based on data from the recent targeted studies could be used to approve existing marketed drugs for the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma according to Matthew Meyerson, a researcher from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts who also worked on the trials:
"The data that are really going to be informative is when you combine genomic data with outcomes of targeted therapies."
PSI CRO - Contract Research Organisation