A medical research team funded by the National Science Council (NSC) said it has discovered how to predict the effectiveness of targeted lung cancer therapies. The discovery would help doctors decide if they should to switch to alternative treatment methods for the 20 to 30 percent of patients for whom targeted therapy is currently ineffective, the team said.
Lung cancer now ranks as the No. 1 cancer-related killer in Taiwan, accounting for about one-fifth of all fatal cancer cases.
Yu Sung-liang (俞松良), an -assistant professor of the School of Medical Technology at National Taiwan University (NTU), said that about 50 percent of lung cancers are caused by mutations in the expression or activity of epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR).
Employing targeted therapy as a first-line treatment to cure EGFR mutation in lung cancer patients has proven effective, said Yu, but some patients still respond poorly to the treatment, or even develop a resistance to the drugs and need alternative therapies.
The medical team — made up of researchers from the Institute of Statistical Science at Academia Sinica, the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences and Medical Biotechnology at NTU and the Development of Comprehensive Cancer Center at Taichung Veterans General Hospital — has identified a set of gene copy number imprints that can predict lung cancer recurrence and its survivability rate.
The team compared the genes from 138 lung adenocarcinoma (a common type of lung cancer) patients, and discovered a difference in gene copy numbers between mutated EGFR and non-mutated EGFR.
Yu said they found significant differences on the seventh pair of chromosomes and identified a further six genes on the chromosome that could effectively predict whether EGFR mutation lung cancer patients would respond well to targeted therapy.
However, the advance prediction formula — which was calculated from observations of how much the mutation rate can be converted to a treatment response rate — needs to be backed up by further evidence from more cases in the actual trial period, said Li Ker-Chau (李克昭), director of Institute of Statistical Science at Academia Sinica.
Currently, the 20 percent to 30 percent of patients who respond poorly to targeted therapy face delays in being switched to alternative treatments, but the new findings can assist doctors in better predicting the effectiveness of targeted therapy, saving valuable time, Yu said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology last month, and the team is now in the process of applying for patents in Taiwan, the US and other countries.
The team added that the new findings would go into a three-year clinical trial period in the hopes of compiling data from 300 to 500 cases, starting in May next year. If the method proves to be effective during the trial period and it gets certified, the treatment will be available to the public in about four to five years, the team said.