March 27, 2019

Study sees immune therapy scoring big win against lung cancer

17 April 2018, 12:38 | Randall Craig

American Cancer Society via Getty Images

Treatment combo improves lung cancer survival times study finds

"It's pretty incredible times to have so many positive studies at once", added Matthew Hellmann, a lung cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who led one of the studies.

The combined use of standard chemotherapy with pembrolizumab was "superior in terms of response - keeping people alive without progression of their cancer - and improving the overall survival of patients with metastatic lung cancer compared to chemotherapy alone", said Gandhi. It's the principal form of lung cancer and found most commonly in people who have smoked. But Merck, the company that makes it, wanted to find out how the drug works in patients who aren't obvious candidates as determined by that blood test.

The new studies suggest that different types of tumors should receive different treatment regimens, all including immune therapy, Hellmann said.

He said the results established the double-immunotherapy combination as a first-line treatment for patients with a high “tumor mutational burden, ” but that it was too early to know whether the treatment leads to longer survival. Serious side effects were a little more common in the chemo group. The most common issues in both groups were nausea, anemia and fatigue.

A study involving people with advanced stage lung cancer found it nearly doubled their survival time, while another revealed that immunotherapy treatment shrank tumours before surgery.

The odds of survival can greatly improve for people with the most common type of lung cancer if, along with the usual chemotherapy, they are also given a drug that activates the immune system, a major new study has shown. "This notion of 'cancer interception" has the potential to stop cancer in its tracks'.

Two thirds were given immunotherapy drugs combined with chemotherapy while...

Chief of Medical Oncology, Dr. Roy Herbst from the Yale Cancer Center said that, "I've been treating lung cancer for 25 years now, and I've never seen such a big paradigm shift as we're seeing with immunotherapy". "It's not a home run yet but it's a pretty good double".

Chemotherapy may no longer be the standard cancer treatment after the publication of a series of studies by the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago. But it turns out to be a reasonable strategy.

Dr. H. Jack West, an often skeptical cancer specialist at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, saw the data presented at the meeting in Chicago and called them "huge results."

Immunotherapies are quickly increasing survival rates for some of the deadliest cancers in the world.

A course of treatment with Keytruda can cost $150,000, so an expanded market could mean billions of dollars in additional revenue. Those not given Keytruda were allowed to switch to it if their cancer worsened.

"We have a tool that helps us determine who are the patients that are most likely to benefit from this combination", Hellmann said. Researchers already had known that patients with high levels of the protein were more likely to respond to immunotherapy.

Dr. Matthew Hellmann of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY led a study testing the Opdivo-Yervoy combo versus chemo in a slightly different group of newly diagnosed advanced lung cancer patients. Patients with those mutations (called EGFR and ALK) were not included in this study, and instead were referred to treatment with the drugs that target their mutation.

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