I’m going to be talking about the role of platinum chemotherapy for patients with advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer. No doubt, there have been significant advances in the past ten years with the development of targeted drugs for those patients who have a particular genetic makeup of their tumor. Many of these drugs have shown to be quite effective for those patients that are susceptible to such treatments. I think what we know though is unfortunately many patients will not have the genetic alterations that make them eligible for targeted treatments, and we have to default to chemotherapy.
I think ‘default’ is a bit of a misnomer because platinum chemotherapy or platinum doublet chemotherapy remains a standard of care for patients with advanced stage lung cancer who don’t harbor particular genetic alterations in their lung cancer and that’s okay. I think what we know about chemotherapy, platinum chemotherapy specifically, is that this type of approach improves survival for patients and it also can have the potential to improve quality of life as well as control symptoms as they relate to the lung cancer. So all three of those measures can be achieved with platinum chemotherapy.
Now chemotherapy comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes — the chemotherapy that we tend to use sometimes is called histology-directed chemotherapy, so patients with a particular type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma may get one type of platinum chemotherapy, whereas patients with a particular type of lung cancer called squamous cell may get a different type of chemotherapy.
I just want to speak briefly about maintenance chemotherapy for adenocarcinoma patients. This is the most common type of lung cancer we see, and again for those patients that don’t harbor genetic alterations that make them eligible for targeted drugs, we can offer a very effective chemotherapy that’s also very tolerable and that can also be given as a maintenance strategy. What I mean by that is that patients generally get four cycles of chemotherapy and for those patients that at least achieve stable disease after their four cycles and are tolerating treatment, I think that we have good data now that we can drop the platinum and continue one of the drugs called pemetrexed and provide a survival advantage for those patients. There are certain maintenance strategies that are also being looked at in the squamous cell population and there are studies ongoing for that.
I think, in some, that the chemotherapies we have now work very well, they can extend life, they can improve quality of life and they’re well tolerated, and I also think specifically for the subset of patients that come in with adenocarcinoma or non-squamous, that there should be a consideration for patients who are tolerating chemotherapy to be offered a maintenance approach.