Using a dual-drug combination to treat lung cancer could be an effective strategy for combating most lung cancer, shows new research from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center. A press release from the school overviews the exciting new findings.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States among men and women and is responsible for 26 percent of all cancer mortalities nationwide, according to the National Cancer Institute. Researchers say their new two-pronged strategy is likely an effective treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer, which represents 85 percent of total cases in this country.

The drug combination, which utilizes one medication that targets epidermal growth factor receptors (a.k.a. EGFR), and another that targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), appears to block lung cancer from using the latter as a route to escape treatment. Using a mouse model, researchers showed that when TNF is also blocked, the cancer becomes more sensitive to EGFR treatment. This finding, which was reported as part of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, has the potential to dramatically alter how doctors treat lung cancer.

Previously, researchers lamented that treatments to block EGFR receptors worked only in a small subset (just 10 to 15 percent) of individuals, with the cancer often fighting back by taking a bypass pathway. However, this dual treatment appears to close off that escape route, rendering the cancer unable to fight off the effects of both treatments.

Researchers are planning Phase II clinical trials of the two-drug strategy, and because both drugs are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they hope to be able to launch the trial within a year

“If the strategy is effective, then it might be broadly applicable not only against lung cancers but also against other cancers that express EGFR, which include brain, colon, and head and neck cancers,” said David Gerber, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine and clinical sciences at UT Southwestern Simmons Cancer Center who will lead the trial.

Researchers also say both drugs are relatively well tolerated compared with other treatments. Both EGFR and TNF inhibitors are considered “targeted drugs,” meaning they affect only specific molecules in cancer cells and as a result have fewer side effects than treatments like chemotherapy that kill both tumors and healthy tissues.

The findings could potentially save the lives of millions of diagnosed and at-risk Americans.