FDA approves promising cancer drug that targets mutated gene

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CBS) The FDA just approved a new cancer drug that's already showing promise. It works entirely differently than chemotherapy and doctors believe it could be transformative in the field of precision medicine.

Looking at Rihanna Plaza today, you would never know that she was born with a tumor the size of her newborn head.

"I just cried, I knew something was bad. Why did it have to be rare, and why did it have to be my daughter?" said Ana Plaza, Rihanna's mother. "There was no indication in my pregnancy."

Rihanna started intensive chemotherapy right away, but after several months, the massive, cancerous tumor in her arm was not shrinking. The family connected with doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to test a new drug called Vitrakvi. It targets a specific gene mutation in Rihannas tumor.

"It surrounded a lot of the major nerves and blood vessels," said the hospital's Dr. Neal Shukla.

Rather than going after tumors based on where they originate, Doctor Shukla says this treatment targets cancers with a certain gene mutation. "We are really trying to move away from treating patients based on just where the cancer arises and really treating them based on what makes the cancer tick," he said.

Rihanna received the drug twice a day at home and her parents saw immediate results.

"Monday to Wednesday. That was it. I called the doctor and said. 'This thing is shrinking, Oh My God,''' said Ana.

Rhianna also had no side effects and within months the tumor became small enough for doctors to perform surgery without compromising the function of her arm.

Today, all that's left is this scar. It's been nine months since Rihanna's last treatment. Her parents are blown away that she's cancer free.

"We were like, where does this happen, it's a miracle," Ana said.

And the almost two-year-old shows no signs of slowing down, or the tumor that once took over her arm.

The drug has been effective in treating 11 other cancers including lung and colon.