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New Kind of Trial Speeds Development of Cancer Drugs

Up to 14 medications can be studied at one time

Cancer Research UK is partnering with AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a new type of clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer, marking a new era of research into personalized medicines to treat cancer.

The National Lung Matrix trial — a genetic marker-directed, non-comparative, multi-arm phase II study — will give researchers unprecedented access to libraries of drugs developed by AstraZeneca and Pfizer, allowing several to be tested at the same time within one trial. The study is scheduled to open later this year throughout the U.K.

Researchers will use the genetics of each lung tumor to identify small groups of patients who, because of the specific genetic changes causing their cancer, are more likely to benefit from a certain drug.

The investigators will then look for signs of improvement, such as increased survival, tumor shrinkage, or an alleviation of symptoms. Medications that show promise in these small groups of patients may be fast-tracked into larger trials involving more patients with the same genetic changes. New medications can be added to the existing study as experimental treatments arrive from the lab.

Over the course of the trial, up to 14 medications could be included — up to 12 from AstraZeneca and its biologics research arm, MedImmune, and two from Pfizer. These drugs target specific and often rare genetic mutations, meaning that they could offer hope for patients who would otherwise have limited treatment options.

“We know that every patient’s cancer is unique, so we are now moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach and instead are striving for more personalized treatment,” said Dr. Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. “Critically, we are shifting the emphasis from designing a trial around a specific drug, to designing it around selecting from a range of drugs for a specific patient. This trial will be for lung cancer patients, but we hope that in the future stratified medicine will lead to dramatic improvements for all cancer patients, with more treatment options and a better chance of beating the disease.”

Source: Cancer Research UK; April 17, 2014.

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