Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with an estimated 221,200 new diagnoses and 158,040 deaths in 2015, according to the National Cancer Institute. An ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) gene mutation can occur in several different types of cancer cells, including lung cancer cells. ALK gene mutations are present in about 5 percent of patients with NSCLC. In metastatic cancer, the disease spreads to new parts of the body. In ALK-positive NSCLC metastatic patients, the brain is a common place for the disease to spread.
“Today’s approval provides a new therapy for a group of patients who would have few treatment options once their disease no longer responds to treatment with Xalkori,” said Richard Pazdur, M.D., director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “In addition to the primary effect on tumors in the lung, Alecensa clinical trials provide evidence of an effect on tumors that had spread to the brain, which is an important effect for clinicians to understand.”
Alecensa is an oral medication that blocks the activity of the ALK protein, which may prevent NSCLC cells from growing and spreading.
The safety and efficacy of Alecensa were studied in two single-arm clinical trials of patients with metastatic ALK-positive NSCLC whose disease was no longer controlled by treatment with Xalkori. Study participants received Alecensa twice daily to measure the drug’s effect on their lung cancer tumors. In the first study, 38 percent of participants experienced a partial shrinkage of their NSCLC tumors, an effect that lasted for an average of 7.5 months. In the second study, 44 percent of participants experienced a partial shrinkage of their NSCLC tumors, lasting for an average of 11.2 months. The trials also examined Alecensa’s effect on individuals’ brain metastases, a common occurrence in this population. Sixty-one percent of participants in the two trials who had measurable brain metastases experienced a complete or partial reduction in their brain tumors, lasting an average of 9.1 months.
The most common side effects of Alecensa are fatigue, constipation, swelling (edema) and muscle pain (myalgia). Alecensa may cause serious side effects, including liver problems, severe or life-threatening inflammation of the lungs, very slow heartbeats and severe muscle problems. Treatment with Alecensa may cause sunburn when patients are exposed to sunlight.
Alecensa was approved using the accelerated approval regulatory pathway, which allows the FDA to approve products for serious or life-threatening diseases based on evidence that the product has an effect on an outcome that is reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit. In the case of Alecensa, the tumor response to treatment, along with the duration of response, provided this evidence. Under the accelerated approval requirements, a confirmatory study is required to verify and describe the clinical benefit of Alecensa.
The FDA granted the Alecensa application breakthrough therapy designation and priority review status. These are distinct programs intended to facilitate and expedite the development and review of certain new drugs in light of their potential to benefit patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. Alecensa also received orphan drug designation, which provides incentives such as tax credits, user fee waivers and eligibility for exclusivity to assist and encourage the development of drugs for rare diseases.
Alecensa is marketed by Genentech, based in San Francisco, California. Xalkori is marketed by Pfizer, based in New York, New York.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.