FDA Approved Medicine Has Makings Of 'Excellent Cancer Drug,' Holy Name Doc Says

A Holy Name Medical Center physician says a new cancer drug recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration is a significant step in the right direction.

Elan Diamond, MD, Medical Director, Urologic Oncology Program, Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name Medical Center
Elan Diamond, MD, Medical Director, Urologic Oncology Program, Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name Medical Center Photo Credit: Holy Name Medical Center

Vitrakvi (Larotrectinib) is for adults and children with solid tumors who test positive for TPM3-NTRK gene fusion, which Holy Name oncologist, Dr. Elan Diamond, likened to an on-switch that certain cancers depend on for growth and survival.

Shutting off the switch can shut off the cancer.

"It's a very fascinating development," he said. "This is one of the newest iterations of what we consider to be targeted treatment for cancer patients.

"This treatment works for mutation that occurs occurs in many different types of cancers. Larotrectinib represents another step in moving towards a paradigm where oncologists use therapies that target particular mutations rather than specific cancer types."

The drug is part of a growing arsenal of cancer therapies that target molecular mechanisms that are common among many different cancer types. It was shown to be effective in breast cancer, lung cancer, salivary gland cancers, infantile fibrosarcoma and others.

NRTK fusion abnormalities are present in approximately 1 percent of pediatric and adult cancers. It might not sound like a lot, but that's 1 in 100 cancer patients.

In early clinical trials, 80 percent of patients treated with Vitrakvi had some degree of tumor shrinkage, with 13 percent of them experiencing a complete response. 

Compared to traditional cancer treatments, the response rate is exceptionally high, Diamond said.

"One patient continues to respond after 23 months of therapy," Diamond said "That is an exceptionally long time for someone to respond to cancer drug."

Since most patients continued to respond to treatment at the time the studies were reported, the median duration of response to Vitrakvi has not yet been published. What is certain, though, is that the average duration of response for traditional chemotherapy treatments is significantly shorter.

Vitrakvi is also extremely well tolerated, Diamond said.

In the studies published, very few people experienced any side effects -- the ones that did present were very mild, the most common being abnormal liver function tests.

How Vitrakvi translates into overall survival has yet to be determined. Ongoing clinical trials that aim to answer these questions.

"It works well for a long time and it's not very toxic," Diamond said. "It has the makings of an excellent cancer drug."

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