WVU Cancer Institute plays crucial role in new cancer drug targeted to genetic mutation

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The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new cancer drug that is the first to be designed from the start to fight a specific genetic mutation, not a traditional cancer type.

The new drug, named Vitrakvi, is not approved to fight breast cancer or lung cancer or colon cancer. Instead, it’s designed and approved to treat cancers that arise anywhere in the body that carry a certain genetic characteristic.

“It’s focusing on the character of the tumor, the cancer. What is driving the cancer formation? Which is the cancer gene itself, the cancer gene is called ‘NTRK’,” said Dr. Patrick Ma, WVU Cancer Institute.  

While several drugs are approved to treat a variety of different cancers based on genetic mutations, Vitrakvi, known generically as larotrectinib, is the first that is approved from the beginning to treat cancers solely based on the mutation.

“What it means is that now we have a new way of treating our cancer patients including pediatric cancer patients. As well as, adult cancer patients,” said Dr. Ma.                                                   

Patients with otherwise incurable cancers saw their tumors disappear, often within days.

“Remarkable overall response rate. It’s actually up to 75 percent with at least 15 percent of the patients confirmed to have complete response.”

Doctors said it’s a potential treatment for patients who have exhausted other options. they must be tested to see whether their tumors carry the mutation.                                                                           

“In layman’s terms we can understand this as, in the fact, we can now treat the right patients with the right drug at the right time.”

The new drug will not be inexpensive. Drug marketer Bayer announced the wholesale acquisition cost will be more than 32-thousand dollars a month. The company said it expects most insurers to cover the cost.

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