Drug Extends Survival for Patients With Rare Cancer

Sunitinib found to provide unprecedented antitumor activity in treatment of thymic carcinoma.

Sunitinib found to provide unprecedented antitumor activity in treatment of thymic carcinoma.

A drug already approved by the FDA to treat several types of cancer exhibited unprecedented antitumor activity for a rare type of cancer in a recent trial.

The study, published recently in Lancet Oncology, found sunitinib to be the first drug to demonstrate a robust response in patients who failed chemotherapy for the treatment of thymic carcinoma, an aggressive tumor of the thymus gland.

"Disease control was achieved in over 90 percent of patients tested," study senior investigator Giuseppe Giaccone, MD, PhD, said in a press release. "This represents a significant advance in the care of these patients. More than half of the 24 patients who participated had failed two or more prior treatments."

Median progression-free survival was found to be 7-plus months, with approximately 60% of patients still alive 18 months after treatment. Sunitinib was not found to show significant activity when it was tested in 16 patients with thymoma, which is a less aggressive form of cancer in the thymus.

In 2006, sunitinib became the first cancer treatment to be simultaneously approved for 2 different indications: renal cell carcinoma and resistant gastrointestinal stromal tumor. Sunitinib has a number of targets, such as VEGFR and PDGFRb, that play a role an in the aggressiveness of thymic carcinoma.

Sunitinib was also found to increase expression of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) in regulatory T-cells, which is connected to longer survival. The researchers next plan a clinical trial to evaluate a PD-1 antibody in patients with thymic carcinomas.

"Our research demonstrated why sunitinib is beneficial in thymic carcinoma, while also uncovering an approach that may offer even better results," Dr. Giaccone said. "Recently, remarkable activity has been observed in several solid tumors with antibodies that target PD-1 or its ligand PDL-1, including renal cell cancer, melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer."