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U.S. Study Suggests Potential for Leukemia Drug as Lung Cancer Treatment

U.S. researchers have identified a gene mutation in some squamous cell lung cancer patients that appeared to respond to Sprycel, a Bristol-Myers Squibb drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, according to a study due to be published Monday.

The researchers said that during the study, scheduled to be published in a new cancer journal called Cancer Discovery, they found mutations in a gene called DDR2 among some patients with squamous cell lung cancer. That type of cancer affects about 50,000 people annually in the US and researchers said there were no approved therapies that specifically target that type of lung cancer.

The research was led by Matthew Meyerson, a professor of pathology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Meyerson and his colleagues looked at about 290 samples of squamous lung tumors and ran them through genetic sequencing tests to look at the genes and any mutations of those genes in each tumor. They found that the DDR2 gene was the most frequently mutated in the samples.

However, the mutation was rare and occurred in just 11 samples, or 3.8 percent. Meyerson estimated that DDR2 mutations would be present in 1,000 to 2,000 lung cancers in the US.

Researchers then tested some drugs against the tumors with the DDR2 mutations in the laboratory and found that Sprycel appeared to be the most effective.

"As a percentage of the millions of people who get cancer each year it is small, but cancer therapy is going more in the direction of personalized medicine as we learn more and more about the complicated biology of each tumor," Meyerson said.

Sprycel is in a class of medicines called protein tyrosine kinase inhibitors. It works by blocking the action of an abnormal protein that signals cancer cells to multiply. Another drug in the class, Tasigna, is marketed by Novartis.