New Cancer Drug May Offer Alternative to Chemo

Amgen's KRAS-targeting drug showed strong results, but it's pricey
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2022 5:10 PM CDT
New Cancer Drug May Offer Alternative to Chemo
This image provided by Amgen in May 2021 shows packaging for their medication Lumakras.   (Amgen via AP)

Chemotherapy, known as much for its toxic side effects as its cancer-fighting prowess, may have some serious competition. Per the Wall Street Journal, biopharma giant Amgen released significant new data from a study of Lumakras, which last year became the first drug of its kind to gain FDA approval. The drug targets a specific genetic mutation known as KRAS, which is common in many cancers and was previously thought to be "undruggable." The recent "confirmatory study" was required by the FDA as part of its conditional approval; it involved 345 late-stage lung cancer patients who had previously received standard treatments.

Patients who received Lumakras tended to go about a month longer without their cancers getting worse, as compared to patients on standard chemo drugs. Most importantly, patients on Lumakras experienced far fewer serious side effects, and 25% lived a year without their cancers advancing, compared to 10% on chemo. On a negative note, Lumakras failed to reduce overall deaths, but medical science is a long way from curing late-stage lung cancer. One oncologist on Amgen’s payroll says the study shows Lumakras should replace chemo in patients who have already received treatment, and the fact it's delivered by pill with fewer side effects make certainly makes it attractive

But the cost—$17,900 per month compared to $1,700 for chemo—may present an obstacle for insurers. "Payers could say, 'Why should we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more for a drug that does not provide a survival benefit?'" as one analyst remarked to the WSJ. Per Reuters, Amgen is also testing the drug’s effectiveness at an earlier stage in lung cancer treatment, as well as on colorectal cancer. Analysts expect Lumakras to bring in $1 billion in revenues in 2024, which is nothing to sneeze at, even for a pharma giant like Amgen. However, the news likely opens lucrative doors for competitors such as Mirati Therapeutics, which is hoping for FDA approval of its own KRAS-targeting drug later this year. (More cancer treatment stories.)

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