Thyroid Cancer Patients May Get Help from New Drug Lenvima Instead of Radiotherapy

A new drug to treat thyroid cancer patients whose conditions continue to worsen despite undergoing radioactive iodine therapy is now available. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved on Friday the oral drug Lenvima. Sold under the generic name lenvatinib, the new medication for progressive thyroid cancer delayed the progress of the disease almost five times longer compared to those with recurring tumors who used placebo, according to the result of a clinical trial, reports

It battles the thyroid cancer by deterring the growth of new blood vessels that could help feed the cancer. Those who used placebo in the study only had four months delay in progression compared to 18 months for those who took Lenvima.

Dr. Steven Sherman, leader of the study and professor and chair of Endocrine Neoplasia and Hormonal Disorders at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said that prior to the approval of lenvatinib by the FDA, the only treatment available to people suffering from thyroid cancer was radioactive iodine.

But more than 50 percent of patients don’t respond to radioactive iodine, and sufferers tend to develop resistance to the treatment over time, Sherman said.

Pharmaceutical firm Eisai funded the research that was published in the February 12 issue of New England Journal of Medicine. The research had almost 400 patients from 21 nations.

But like many drugs, Lenvima has some side effects such as heart failure, formation of blood clot, damage to liver and kidney, headache, confusion, seizures and visual changes.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said these side effects on a patient’s quality of life should be weighed against overall survival, which unfortunately remains unknown so far.

According to the FDA, almost 63,000 Americans are suffering from thyroid cancer and 1,890 died from it in 2014.

FDA approved Lenvima about two months ahead of its prescription drug user fee goal date of April 14, 2015 because it was reviewed by the regulator under its priority review program.