At some point in Karen Pihl’s life, one of her lung cells made a potentially fatal misstep. As the cell duplicated its DNA in preparation to divide, part of the gene for one protein became erroneously attached to part of the gene for another. The genetic malfunction bestowed the cell with the ability to grow out of control, ultimately creating lung cancer.
Today, Pihl is part of a clinical trial, being published in the New England Journal of Medicine, of an experimental lung cancer drug that specifically blocks the effects of that mutation. According to the findings, the drug, called crizotinib and developed by Pfizer, shrank tumors in half of patients whose cancers carried a similar genetic mistake. The drug suppressed tumor growth in another third.