A cancer cell in crosshairs

Targeted Therapies Show Promise to Treat HER2-Positive Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Many people who have non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) find that traditional therapies and medications can be an effective way to treat their cancer. However, people who test positive for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) may need a different approach. Researchers have been studying how targeted therapies can help improve lung cancer outcomes.1

What does it mean to be HER2+?

HER2 is a protein that can promote the growth of cancer cells. In some people, it has mutated, or changed, from its original form, and some people make too much of the protein.1,2

Many cancers have been tied to the HER2 gene. This includes breast and gastrointestinal cancers. There are targeted therapies available for many of the other types of cancers that are affected by HER2, but so far there are none for NSCLC.1

Being HER2-positive can make traditional therapies less effective. Researchers have been studying other options for these people.1,2

Why HER2 status matters in lung cancer

For people with lung cancer, HER2 mutations can be a factor in how bad their cancer is and how fast it gets worse. It used to be rare to have a HER2 mutation – only 1 or 2 percent of people had it. However, more and more lung cancer cases are showing the mutation, and that number keeps growing.2

Current studies show that the number of HER2-positive cases has increased to 6 to 30 percent. This is important because people who have a HER2 mutation have worse survival outcomes when compared to those who do not.2

For example, people with NSCLC who were treated with HER2-targeted therapies had an average survival of 2.1 years compared with 1.4 years for those who were not given a targeted treatment.2

Future treatment options for people who are HER2+

The growing number of people with HER2 positive cancer makes finding an effective treatment very important. Thankfully, researchers have found some targeted treatments that offer promising options for NSCLC.1-4

Targeted treatments work by attacking only specific genes or cancer cells. Because they are so focused, there is less risk of hurting healthy cells. This can also help keep the cancer from progressing.1,2

The promise of targeted therapies

One of these targeted treatments is trastuzumab emtansine. It is a HER2-targeted antibody-drug that is a combination of 2 cancer medications. Results from a trial showed that the drug might work on HER2-positive lung cancer.3

The partial response rate (PRR) for trastuzumab emtansine was 44 percent. The PRR means that even though the cancer did not completely go away, it did respond to the treatment and the cancer was reduced. This drug still needs more study, but these early results mean this could be a treatment in the future.3

Another option that is being studied is trastuzumab deruxtecan. It is a drug that also combines 2 cancer medications into one treatment. In this trial, the overall response rate (ORR) was 66 percent. The OOR shows how many people had a complete or partial response to the medication.4

The progression-free survival (PFS) for trastuzumab deruxtecan was predicted to be 14 months. PFS is how long someone goes after a cancer treatment before they need to be treated again, or before the cancer gets worse. These results mean trastuzumab deruxtecan might be an active agent against lung cancer.4

Poziotinib is a third drug that has shown the ability to treat HER2-positive lung cancers. It works by fitting into the altered protein structure to block the activity of certain enzymes called tyrosine kinases.1

In one clinical trial, poziotinib had a PRR of 50 percent within 8 weeks and an ORR of 42 percent. While there were only a small number of people with HER2-positive status studied in this trial, these results are worth a closer look.1

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