New cancer drug targets specific genetic mutation rather than tumor type


A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved a new drug, larotrectinib, to treat cancer in an unconventional way. Loxo Oncology, the company behind this new medicine, in partnership with pharma giant Bayer, successfully demonstrated the drug’s effectiveness against a wide range of cancers. In clinical tests larotrectinib reduced tumours in 81% of the 122 trial patients with 24 distinct types of cancer, including lung, pancreatic, breast and colon.

Unlike conventional treatments that target a particular type of cancer, this treatment targets a genetic mutation in patients, known as TRK gene fusion. Low volume, high specificity “designer drugs” have been criticised recently because of the expensive price tags borne when the final medicines come to market.  

The trend towards greater personalised medicine is showing excellent health outcome results, but critics question how medicine is moving towards highly expensive treatments that might support persistent economic inequality in global health outcomes, especially in patient-pay markets and poorer countries.

This new cancer treatment is only available to adults and paediatric patients with this particular mutation and comes with a hefty price tag of US$32,800 per month.  It’s step closer to a cancer-free community, but outside the reach of most of the world’s people.

This story is featured in the 30 November 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.

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