Described by NHS England as “revolutionary” and an “exciting new breakthrough” in cancer, a tumour agnostic drug for a range of different cancers has been approved for use in Europe.
The approved drug is called larotrectinib, which targets cancer cells with a genetic change that accelerates cancer growth. This genetic change is known as the NTRK gene fusion, in which two parts of DNA accidentally merge together to alter genetic make-up leading to the growth of cancer.
NTRK gene fusions are rare and can be found in sarcomas, and in some brain, kidney, thyroid, lung and other cancers in both children and adults. Less than 1 in 100 patients with cancer will have the NTRK gene fusion that could be targeted by the new drugs. But there are some rare cancers, like a subtype of salivary gland cancer and certain childhood cancers, where almost all patients have the genetic change.
In clinical trials, three quarters of the 55 patients taking larotrectinib responded to the drug, and the cancer disappeared completely in 7 patients and shrank in 34 patients. Long-term survival data are being collected for these patients.
Clinical trials are ongoing with larotrectinib and entrectinib, another drug that targets the NTRK gene fusion. Both drugs are yet to be assessed by NICE for approval for use in NHS England.