Boehringer Ingelheim says that data, due to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in a couple of weeks, shows that the company’s BIBW 2992 shrank tumours in 22% of patients with head and neck cancer (measured as partial response), compared to 13% of those receiving Erbitux (cetuximab).

BIBW 2992 – a small molecule which targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR/HER1) and human epidermal receptor 2 (HER2) tyrosine kinase – works by irreversibly binding to the receptor, unlike available treatments in this class. The results for BIBW-2992 are “potentially quite meaningful” for patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer since this novel compound appears to be at least as effective as cetuximab with a comparable safety profile, says the University of Chicago Medical Center's Tanguy Seiwert, lead investigator of an ongoing Phase II trial.

“Recurrent head and neck cancer carries a very poor prognosis, and this is truly the first time that an oral EGFR targeting agent has shown this level of activity," he said. At this advanced stage, "BIBW 2992 could potentially provide a much-needed alternative treatment option.”

Data from the LUX-Lung 2 trial on BIBW 2992 in non-small-cell lung cancer patients with EGFR mutations will also be presented at ASCO.

The results show that the majority of patients (61%) with these mutations have significant tumour shrinkage (measured as partial response), a long time to progression (median of approximately 14 months) and a long survival (median of 2 years) when treated with BIBW 2992.

James Yang of the National Taiwan University Hospital and investigator of the trial says "these results are exciting, as they affirm BIBW 2992’s marked and durable anti-tumour activity in NSCLC patients with EGFR mutations.”

Results from LUX-Lung 1, the pivotal Phase III trial investigating BIBW 2992 in NSCLC patients who were previously treated with Roche/OSI's Tarceva (erlotinib) or AstraZeneca’s Iressa (gefitinib) are expected soon, says Boehringer.