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Lilly cancer drug OK'd for new use

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Eli Lilly and Co.'s top rising-star drug has been OK'd by U.S. regulators for a new use, an event that could boost sales of the medication.

Alimta, a lung cancer drug, was approved as a maintenance therapy for non-small cell lung cancer for certain patients, Lilly announced today. The approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is for patients with tumor types called nonsquamous that have already responded to standard chemotherapy.

Sales of Alimta grew 36 percent, to $335 million, in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period a year ago. No other Lilly drug is growing as fast. In 2008, Alimta racked up sales of $1.15 billion.

Alimta first hit the market in 2004 to as a secondary treatment for non-small cell lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma, another kind of lung cancer. In 2008, Alimta won approval as a primary treatment against non-small cell lung cancer.

Now it can be used to help keep cancer patients progression-free longer.

"Previously, patients received best supportive care following their chemotherapy. Now physicians and patients have a new option to improve survival," Dr. Richard Gaynor, Lilly's vice president of cancer research, said in a statement.

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