In its latest round of early human trials, a drug called divarasib has shown promising results in treating a specific form of bowel cancer, outshining existing alternatives.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in Australia found that when divarasib is combined with another cancer treatment called cetuximab, 62 percent of patients with tumors caused by a mutation in the KRAS gene experienced a positive outcome, which means that their tumors were either completely eradicated or reduced in size.
When used on its own, previous research found the pill yields a still impressive 35.9 percent positive response rate, notes NewAtlas, and is overall 20 times more effective than other treatments that also target the same cancer.
Despite the promising results, it's a very targeted drug that will only be effective for a small proportion of colon cancer patients. The mutation, KRAS G12C, affects a protein that controls cell division and occurs only in four percent of colon or rectal (colorectal) cancer cases, according to the researchers.
However, because KRAS G12C cancer is commonly tested for and has such a poor prognosis, doctors could quickly identify the patients that would benefit from divarasib, providing immediate — and potentially life-saving — relief.
"The median progression-free survival for patients in the study" — the amount of time during or after the treatment they were able to live without the cancer getting worse — "was just over eight months and the treatment was well tolerated with manageable side effects," said study lead author Jayesh Desai, a medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, in a statement.
"While this is not a head-to-head trial, the response rates are better than what we have seen with other treatments that work on the KRAS G12C mutation pathway," he added, referring to trials that directly compare different therapies.
Existing treatments for KRAS G12C bowel cancer such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy provided only modest results. Their main drawback is that they're non-selective, targeting the whole body rather than homing in on the deadly tumors — a problem that divarasib seemingly promises to circumvent.
"We are very hopeful that this combination of divarasib with cetuximab will translate into better outcomes for our colorectal cancer patients," Desai said.
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