Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Medical | By

Immunotherapy shows lung cancer promise

Immunotherapy shows lung cancer promise

The study estimates that one year after treatment, 69 percent of patients who received the immunotherapy drug in addition to chemotherapy would still be alive, compared with 49 percent of people who received chemotherapy alone.

Two promising new studies suggest combining Immune Therapy drugs with chemotherapy may improve survival. Herbst compares it with inflammation around a cut, which marshals the immune system into action, only in this case the wound being targeted is debris from dead cancer cells.

"Non-small cell lung cancer is actually the leading cause of cancer death in the world even though it's not the most common cancer", said Dr. Leena Gandhi, lead investigator of the study and director of the thoracic medical oncology program at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health.

"Ive been treating lung cancer for 25 years now, and Ive never seen such a big paradigm shift as were seeing with immunotherapy", said Dr. Roy Herbst, chief of Medical Oncology at the Yale Cancer Center.

Scientists who werent involved in the study agreed that it was highly significant. "I only treat lung cancer and I've been doing that for about 20 years". In the United States, it is expected to kill more than 154,000 people in 2018.

A separate study by Johns Hopkins University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre tested the immunotherapy drug, nivolumab, on 21 patients about to have surgery for non-small-cell lung cancer. The immune-activating drug was a checkpoint inhibitor called pembrolizumab, or Keytruda, made by Merck, which paid for the study.

Hellmann's study, called CheckMate 227, found that advanced tumors that contain a lot of genetic mutations - often from smoking - respond particularly well to a combination of two immune therapy drugs, Yervoy and Opdivo, both from Bristol-Myers Squibb.


“For the first time, adding another drug has significantly impacted the long-term outlook for those patients, ” she said.

The report was one of several highly anticipated studies on immunotherapy and lung cancer presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago. "Chemotherapy has limitations. Immunotherapy has the ability to cure".

"We have a tool that helps us determine who are the patients that are most likely to benefit from this combination", Hellmann said.

The study, a phase III clinical trial testing treatment effectiveness and side effects, included 616 patients at 118 medical facilities around the globe. It's the principal form of lung cancer and found most commonly in people who have smoked.

"What we look at in these trials is overall survival - how long patients live - and we look at a number called the median survival - how long 50% of patients live", said Gomez.

Immunotherapy, which harnesses the body's immune system to attack tumors, is known to improve survival in patients who have already been treated with chemo. By killing some tumor cells, chemotherapy could pop open the bags, release the contents and help immune cells — unleashed by the checkpoint drugs — to identify their prey. That means that the tumors removed in surgery had at least 10 percent fewer cancer cells than they did before treatment.

Other companies have similar immunotherapy drugs, but Merck's product has an advantage for treatment of lung cancer because it already has data in hand to show its drug is effective in this setting.

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