Eli Lilly has received a boost with the news that regulators in Europe have backed its chemotherapy Alimta as a continuation maintenance therapy for a particularly type of lung cancer.

Specifically, the European Commission has granted approval for the use of Alimta (pemetrexed) as a single agent for continuation maintenance therapy in patients with advanced non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Lilly noted that maintenance therapy "is a relatively new concept in lung cancer treatment," in which patients start the latter immediately following their first-line treatments to try to maintain disease control. No other chemotherapy is currently approved in the 'continuation maintenance' setting,

Alimta is already approved in Europe and the USA for three indications in patients with advanced nonsquamous NSCLC, including first-line treatment in combination with cisplatin, second-line treatment, and maintenance treatment of patients whose disease has not progressed immediately following platinum-based chemotherapy. The latest green light is based on data from a 939-patient trial which showed an improvement in progression-free survival, as well as a preliminary analysis showing a strong trend toward better overall survival, for NSCLC patients treated first with Alimta plus cisplatin and then continue treatment with the Lilly drug alone in the maintenance setting.

Allen Melemed, senior medical director at Lilly Oncology, said the latest approval "represents an important advance in the treatment of advanced lung cancer. Noting that "tailored therapies have come to the forefront of cancer treatment because they allow clinicians to select the right treatment for the right patient", he added that patients with lung cancer who have already benefited from first-line treatment will now have the option to continue treatment with Alimta, "with the goal of a better clinical outcome."

The new approval will help push up Alimta's already-significant sales - third-quarter revenues from the drug rose 12% to $629.7 million.