erlotinib, Tarceva

  • Pharmacy Author:
    Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD

    Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

GENERIC NAME: erlotinib

BRAND NAME: Tarceva

DRUG CLASS AND MECHANISM: Erlotinib is a synthetic (man-made) oral drug that is used for treating cancer. It is approved for treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

There are more than 1.2 million cases worldwide of lung cancer each year, causing one death every 3 seconds. According to the National Cancer Institute, lung cancer is responsible for nearly 30% of cancer deaths in the US. NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer and accounts for almost 80% of all the cases.

Many cells, including cancer cells, have receptors on their surfaces for epidermal growth factor (EGF), a protein that is normally produced by the body and that promotes the growth and multiplication of cells. When EGF attaches to epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs), it causes an enzyme called tyrosine kinase to become active within the cells. Tyrosine kinase triggers chemical processes that cause the cells, including cancer cells, to grow, multiply, and spread. Erlotinib attaches to EGFRs, blocking the attachment of EGF and the activation of tyrosine kinase. This mechanism for stopping cancer cells from growing and multiplying is very different from the mechanisms of chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. Erlotinib was approved by the FDA in November of 2004.

PRESCRIBED FOR: Erlotinib is used for treatment of patients with metastatic or locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who have failed at least one previous round of chemotherapy. It also is used for maintenance of NSCLC that has not progressed after four cycles of platinum-based first line chemotherapy. Erlotinib is combined with gemcitabine to treat advanced unresectable metastatic prostate cancer and for pancreatic cancer.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/21/2015

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