Facebook Twitter

Lung cancer death risk reduced 50% with AstraZeneca’s new drug

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca produced a lung cancer drug that drastically reduced the risk of death, one expert calling it ‘a momentous achievement.’ What does this mean for Utah?

SHARE Lung cancer death risk reduced 50% with AstraZeneca’s new drug
A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England.

A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England, on July 18, 2020.

Alastair Grant, Associated Press

A new drug was found to reduce the risk of death by a specific type of lung cancer by more than 50% compared to a placebo, according to the company that produced the drug.

Osimertinib, branded as Tagrisso by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, showed promise in research trials, according to the company.

The New England Journal of Medicine said the latest trial of the drug had 682 patients randomly assigned to take either osimertinib or a placebo pill every day for three years.

These patients had “earlier-stage EGFR-mutated NSCLC,” a specific kind of mutated gene and non-small cell lung cancer, and “had undergone surgery to remove their primary tumor,” according to Reuters.

Reuters added that patients with this diagnosis will usually see the cancer return despite surgery and added chemotherapy.

Two years after the trial, the U.K.’s Daily Mail said 22% of patients that took the placebo pill had died, compared to the 12% who had taken osimertinib.

Dr. Roy S. Herbst, deputy director and chief of Medical Oncology at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, and principal investigator in the trial, said in the press release, “These highly anticipated overall survival results, with 88% of patients alive at five years, are a momentous achievement in the treatment of early-stage EGFR-mutated lung cancer.”

Dave Fredrickson, executive vice president of oncology at AstraZeneca, told Reuters, “This is a pretty dramatic and remarkable improvement.”

The press release said this can help 80-85% of the 2.2 million people diagnosed with lung cancer worldwide who are diagnosed with NSCLC, the most common form of lung cancer.

Lung cancer in Utah

In 2022, the American Lung Association ranked Utah the best state in the U.S. for lung cancer incidents, with about 27 cases per 100,000 incidents, followed by New Mexico (36) and California (40).

The annual Health Indicator Report of Lung Cancer Deaths, reported by The Utah Department of Health and Human Services, said from 2004-2020, the lung cancer mortality rate decreased from 26.4 to 15.2 deaths per 100,000 persons.

Utah’s data from 2018-2020 showed, “those of Hispanic ethnicity had a significantly lower rate of lung cancer deaths (11.52 per 100,000 persons).” Pacific Islanders and Black people had the highest lung cancer death rates in the state.

The American Cancer Society predicts Utah will have 800 lung or bronchus cancer cases in the coming year among about 230,000 cases for the nation.

Although Utah has the lowest number of lung cancer cases in the country, the association said the state ranked “39th in the nation for lack of treatment at 22.8%,” about 2% higher than the national average.

Utah placed 45th in the country for lung cancer screening, with 2% of eligible people receiving screening for the disease.

“We all can help reduce the burden of lung cancer in Utah. If you are eligible for lung cancer screening, we encourage you to speak with your doctor about it. If a loved one is eligible, please encourage them to get screened,” said Nick Torres, advocacy director at the American Lung Association.

Lung cancer treatments

The Deseret News has previously reported how more doctors are pushing adults to get a low-dose CT screening for lung cancer if they have a history of smoking or are of old age.

“Dr. Robert Winn, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, told The Wall Street Journal, ‘Most of them don’t even know that if we catch these things early, they’re curable,’” according to the Deseret News.

“AstraZeneca is also expecting to provide details on the impact of combining Tagrisso with chemotherapy in patients with advanced EGFR-mutated lung cancer later this year,” Reuters said.

If you are thinking about getting screened, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said to talk to your doctor and you can be referred to a high-quality screening facility.

Besides a history of smoking, other risk factors for the disease are listed by Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute and include:

  • A genetic history of lung cancer.
  • Exposure to air pollution or radiation.
  • Being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).