Published on August 21, 2020
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The work of researchers to piece together the KRAS-positive lung cancer puzzle has led to promising advances in lung cancer treatments as scientists test new types of drugs, leading to a flurry of positive news over the past year — and optimism for future treatment options.
We’ll hear from lung cancer experts Dr. Jyoti Patel from the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and Dr. Jessica Lin from Harvard Medical School, as well as from Terri Conneran, patient advocate and founder of the KRAS Kickers support group.
What is Lung Cancer?
As one of the most common cancers among both men and women as well as the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, lung cancer has been the focus of decades of research. From behavioral and environmental factors that can aid prevention to advancements in screening and treatment options, doctors and scientists have worked tirelessly to illuminate options for fighting this disease that kills more than 150,000 Americans each year. The American Cancer Society reports that since the 1990s they have invested over $134 million in lung cancer research.1
The good news is that years of dedicated study has led to progress in treatment and survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer found among patients in the U.S. However, as National Cancer Institute researcher Nadia Howlader explains, “...Lung cancer is not one disease, it’s a collection of many diseases. It’s very important that patients to talk to their doctors about what kind of lung cancer they have.2
Beyond the two main categories of lung cancer — non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) — there are numerous subtypes and mutations that can occur.
What is KRAS-Positive NSCLC?
One particularly tenacious mutation found in lung cancer patients is in the difficult-to-treat KRAS (Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog) gene. KRAS is the most frequently appearing subset of non-small cell lunger cancers.3,4
As described by the National Cancer Institute, the KRAS protein is involved in controlling cell growth, cell maturation, and cell death. Mutated forms of the KRAS gene have been found in some types of cancer, including NSCLC. These changes to the KRAS gene can cause cancer cells to grow and spread in the body.
It has been difficult to develop a therapy to target KRAS because it falls into the category of “undruggable” proteins: those that have shown resistance to any pharmacological therapies. However, Dr. David Carbone from The Ohio State University Medical Center shared promising news for KRAS patients during a March 2020 interview with patient advocate Terri Conneran.
“We’re fortunate to have several different KRAS targeted drugs in the clinic, in clinical testing,” Dr. Carbone said. “They’re not FDA approved yet, but in early studies, they’re showing amazing response rates with shrinkage of cancers with just pills and low toxicity…even when the cancer is widespread in peoples’ bodies…which is extremely exciting for me and for patients.”
The RAS Initiative
The relationship between the KRAS gene mutation and lung cancer was discovered in the 1980s and studies immediately began to work toward finding an effective targeted treatment. Researchers have doubled down on their commitment to solving this challenge in the past decade.
In 2013, the National Cancer Institute created “The RAS Initiative” to connect RAS researchers and further explore innovative strategies for attacking these proteins and effectively treating the cancers they cause. Since then, dedicated research teams and lung cancer clinical trials have committed to finding the needed breakthrough that will meet this important clinical need.4,5
Are you a KRAS patient or care partner?
The KRAS Kickers is a community providing knowledge and hope for all who are fighting the KRAS battle. Connect with them for further resources and support.
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4KRAS Oncogene in Non-small-cell Lung Cancer: Clinical Perspectives on the Treatment of an Old Target (National Center for Biotechnology Information / U.S. National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health)
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