One of the most shocking diseases for a non-smoker to get is lung cancer.
“There’s a stigma of lung cancer where everyone assumes it’s only from smoking,” Dr. Danny Nguyen told the Business Journal.
Nguyen, a medical oncologist and hematologist who works in Huntington Beach and Irvine for the City of Hope Orange County, is leading its worldwide study on this disease, which often affects older Asian women.
“A lot of these patients who are living their lives normally have a cough that they blow off as an allergy,” Nguyen said.
Then when they get a scan for a routine health visit and find out they have this diagnosis.
“By the time we find it, it’s more advanced because that’s when there are symptoms.”
Nguyen completed fellowship training in oncology and hematology at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, residency in internal medicine at Emory University and medical school at the University of South Florida.
About 80% to 85% percent of lung cancers are classified as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Among patients with NSCLC, it is estimated that a mutation called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is present in approximately 22% of cases in the U.S., about 15% in Europe and about 40% to 50% in Asia.
More than 5,000 new cases are diagnosed per year in the U.S., based on the most recent stats from the American Cancer Society.
Patients with the diagnosis have high medical needs as the disease often progresses to the brain, which has proven difficult to treat.
Nguyen is testing a drug called BLU-451, which is named after the medicine’s developer, Blueprint Medicines Corp., a Cambridge, Mass.-based research company with a $3 billion market cap (Nasdaq: BPMC).
The company works on precision therapies that selectively target genetic drivers, with the goal of staying one step ahead across stages of the disease. It currently has two FDA-approved therapies and “a rapidly advancing pipeline.”
“BLU-451 is a potential best-in-class, potent and selective,” according to a recent Blueprint poster.
Last year, Blueprint Medicines presented the first preclinical data for BLU-451 at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. Based on these preclinical data, the City of Hope initiated the Phase ½ trial of BLU-451 to determine its safety.
Dr. Nguyen presented the early data for the trial at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.
Dr. Nguyen expects to complete this Phase ½ trial within a year and then move onto a Phase 2 trial that will involve up to 100 people from around the world.
The trial is specifically for patients with Stage 4 patients, who typically will live 18 months to two years.
“Prognosis of Stage 4 has improved dramatically over the last decade,” Dr. Nguyen said.
“I’ve seen patients live several years beyond that because of clinical trials.”
If the trial succeeds in receiving FDA-approval, the City of Hope says it will be “a game-changer” in the fight against lung cancer.
“These patients can have access to these drugs years before they hit the market,” Nguyen said. “Clinical trial patients are contributing to the medical literature.”