Kidney cancer drug adds options

    A new kidney cancer drug is widening treatment options for patients who have disease that has spread to other parts of the body.

    Doctors say ten years ago they had very limited tools to battle advanced kidney cancer.

    Surgery can help slow kidney cancer that has reached the liver or lungs, but it’s tougher to treat metastasized cancer when it reaches the brain or bone, said Jack Mydlo, chair of the Department of Urology at Temple University Hospital.

    Five years ago, a new family of medicines revolutionized treatment.

    “They primarily work by what’s called anti-angiogenesis where they strangle off blood supply to tumors,” said oncologist Robert Motzer. “Kidney cancer has a particular gene organism that causes lots of blood vessels to form and so these drugs are particularly effective against kidney cancer.”

    Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the newest anti-angiogenesis drug for advanced kidney cancer – called axitinib. The medicine, from drug maker Pfizer will be sold under the brand name Inlyta.

    Motzer, an investigator and attending physician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, helped to test Inlyta for Pfizer.

    GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis also have drugs in the same family of medicines. Each drug has different side effects and doctors often rotate them to find the best match for patients.

    Oncologist Subramanian Hariharan is global medical lead for Inlyta.

    He says Inlyta and the other anti-angiogenesis medicines have fewer side effects and help keep tumor-growth in check longer, when compared to interferon-based therapy, an approach that is designed to boost the immune system.

    Progression free survival, the length of time after treatment that a disease does not get worse, is one way scientists measure a drug’s effectiveness against advanced kidney cancer.

    Hariharan says in one comparison of a popular anti-angiogenesis drug versus older therapy, the new drug added months of progression free survival.

    “It more than doubled the time that the tumor didn’t progress,” Hariharan said.

    The new class of drugs also comes in pill form, making at-home treatment more convenient. Older therapies required an injection.

    “It was given in specialized care centers or an ICU-based setting. You needed to go to these centers and that had its own challenges,” Hariharan said.

    Mydlo says some of his patients have struggled to afford anti-angiogenesis therapy. Treatment can cost between $6,000 and $9,000 each month, he said.

    Anti-angiogenesis medicines are sometimes covered by health insurance, and patients are often required to contribute a co-payment.

    “Even if it’s just 10 percent or 20 percent, that goes beyond a lot of people’s reach. We have a real battle getting the funding so the patient can fight their disease in a fair battle,” Mydlo said.A new kidney cancer drug is widening the treatment options for patients.

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