Iressa, FDA Approves Drug for Lung Cancer (cont.)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 5th, 2003 announced the approval of Iressa (gefitinib) tablets as a single agent treatment for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common form of lung cancer in the US. Iressa is being approved as a treatment for patients whose cancer has continued to progress despite treatment with platinum-based and docetaxel chemotherapy, two drugs that are currently the standard of care in this disease.

Iressa was reviewed and approved under FDA's accelerated approval program, which is intended to allow patients suffering from serious or life-threatening diseases earlier access to promising new drugs. As required by the accelerated approval regulations, Iressa's developer will perform additional studies to verify the drug's clinical benefit.

"FDA believes it is crucial for cancer patients to have many safe and effective treatment options available to them in their battle against this disease" said FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D. "With the approval of Iressa, thousands of patients with lung cancer will now have access to an additional treatment after others haven't worked to stop the progression of their disease."

The mechanism by which Iressa exerts its clinical benefit is not fully understood. However, Iressa was developed to block growth stimulatory signals in cancer cells. These signals are mediated in part by enzymes called tyrosine kinases. Iressa blocks several of these tyrosine kinases, including the one associated with Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR).

FDA based the approval on the results of a study of 216 patients with NSCLC, including 142 patients with refractory disease, i.e., tumors resistant or unresponsive to two prior treatments. The response rate (defined as at least 50% tumor shrinkage lasting at least one month) was about 10%. There were more dramatic responses in some patients and the median duration of response was 7 months. On September 24, 2002, the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) recommended that in third-line treatment of NSCLC, where there are no viable treatment options, a 10% response rate was reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit and recommended that Iressa be approved.

Results from two large, controlled, randomized trials in initial treatment of NSCLC showed no benefit from adding Iressa to standard, platinum-based chemotherapy. Therefore, Iressa is not indicated for use in this setting.

There appeared to be substantial differences in response rates in subsets of patients, with higher response rates for women (about 17%) and patients with adenocarcinoma, and with lower response rates seen in men (about 5%) and smokers.

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