New lung cancer pill hailed as ‘off the charts’ success – with patients surviving years longer than those on next best treatment

Patients with incurable lung cancer could see their lives extended by several years by a drug hailed the ‘best ever’ treatment for the disease.

Around six in ten patients given the daily tablet treated with lorlatinib survived for five years without their cancer progressing, compared to just eight per cent receiving standard care.

Scientists said the results were ‘off the charts’ following a trial which found it improved survival rates by the longest time ever recorded.

Researchers presenting the findings at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago said it was impossible to say how long it extended lives because the majority are still living progression free.

The study involved 296 people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer caused by a mutation of the ALK gene, an aggressive form of the disease which often spreads to the brain.

Around six in ten patients given the daily tablet treated with lorlatinib survived for five years without their cancer progressing, compared to just eight per cent receiving standard care

 Typically non-smokers who are younger than the average lung cancer patients, some 350 people in the UK are diagnosed each year with ALK-positive lung cancer.

Experts hope lortlatinib will be approved as a first-line NHS treatment for these patients within months.

Developed by Pfizer, lorlatinib works by binding to the ALK protein on the surface of cells, blocking the growth of tumours and ‘stopping cancer in its tracks’.

Dr David Spigel, chief scientific officer ASCO expert said the industry had ‘not seen anything close to this’.

He said: ‘The results with lorlatinib are the best we’ve ever seen.

‘We just haven’t seen results like that in oncology that often, much less in non-small cell lung cancer.

‘These are among the best results we’ve seen in advanced disease in any setting… a really major step forward in lung cancer care.’

The study was led by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, Melbourne, Australia, and included 296 people with advanced ALK-positive lung cancer, with quarter of patients having already seen the cancer spread to their brain.

Half were given lorlatinib while the others were given an existing drug called crizotinib, designed to work in a similar way.

Over five years, 60 per cent of the lorlatinib group experienced no progression in their cancer, which scientists said was ‘unheard of’.

These results compared to a progression-free survival lasting just nine months on average elsewhere.

Patients were given brain scans every eight weeks, and this showed that lorlatinib prevented the cancer spreading to the brain and stopped any existing brain tumours from growing

Lead author Dr Benjamin Solomon said: ‘Importantly, about a quarter of patients with ALK+ lung cancer have brain metastases present at the time of diagnosis and progressive CNS involvement remains a major concern for these patients.

‘This is the longest progression-free survival ever reported in ALK+ non small cell lung cancer, and indeed, to our knowledge, of any targeted therapy in lung cancer to date.’

The drug has been available on the NHS since 2020, but only for limited use in patients who have exhausted all other treatment options, with less than 100 people getting it a year.

The results now mean medical regulator NICE will reassess lorlatinib to provide a new standard first-line treatment for patients with ALK-positive lung cancer.

Debra Montague, chair or ALK Positive Lung Cancer UK, said: ‘Lung cancer often spreads to the brain and Lorlatinib is very successful at stopping this.

‘The drug is not yet in use in for first line treatment in the England but hopefully, after these results, it will get approval.

‘ALK-positive lung cancer usually affects patients who have never smoked and this drugs raises the prospect of extending lives by many years.’

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: ‘The groundbreaking results show that over half of the patients who took Lorlatinib did not suffer a progression in their disease after five years.

‘In contrast, over half of the patients who took Crizotinib experienced disease progression after just nine months.

‘Research like this is vital to find new ways to treat lung cancer and help more people survive for longer.’