The first study in Western patients found erlotinib (Tarceva) could help people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer that has a genetic mutation.
The once-a-day pill, which spares patients the need for chemotherapy, was found to double the time people lived without their disease getting worse to 9.7 months compared with 5.2 months for chemotherapy. Overall, the drug led to a 63 per cent reduced risk of the disease getting worse compared with standard chemotherapy.
The research, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago, involved more than 1,200 patients with a genetic mutation in a protein called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor).
This mutation occurs in about 11 per cent of all lung cancer patients. In the UK around 3,432 patients a year could benefit from erlotinib.