A study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has indicated that a combination of drugs targeting epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and tumour necrosis factor (TNF) can treat most of the lung cancers.

Researchers found that a combination of drugs–one targeting EGFR and one targeting TNF–effectively blocks the cancer from using TNF as an escape route. Using a mouse model, the researchers showed that when TNF is also blocked, the cancer becomes sensitive to EGFR treatment.

They believe that the approach will be effective in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and are planning to conduct a Phase II clinical trial over the coming months.

The team based the work on previous preclinical findings, where the anti-EGFR/TNF combination was effective against a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma. They intend to recruit glioblastoma patients for the Phase II study.

“Blocking both of these proteins could be a treatment that is beneficial for the majority of lung cancer patients.”

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center neurology and neurotherapeutics associate professor Dr Amyn Habib said: “There has been a tremendous effort over the past several years to block EGFR as a treatment for lung cancer, but this therapy only works in a small subset of patients.

“Blocking both of these proteins could be a treatment that is beneficial for the majority of lung cancer patients.”

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An additional benefit of the combination is that both EGFR and TNF inhibitors are well-tolerated and target selective molecules within tumours, leading to reduced side-effects.

Researchers hope that the new strategy can be applied to other cancers characterised by EGFR expression such as brain, colon, and head and neck cancers.