Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

Study sees immune therapy scoring big win against lung cancer

Study sees immune therapy scoring big win against lung cancer

Immuno-chemotherapy combo extends lung cancer victim's survival period, says the latest comprehensive study.

"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.

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. In a second study, doctors found that giving Opdivo to advanced lung cancer patients before surgery helped shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.

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The hope is that such early treatment, when the patient is still quite healthy, will train their immune system to keep fighting off the cancer long-term, Forde said. In that group, survival without worsening of disease was 43 percent after one year for those on the immunotherapy drugs versus 13 percent of those on chemo. The studies were sponsored by the drugmakers, and many study leaders and Herbst consult for the companies. Four immunotherapy drugs for cancer, known as checkpoint inhibitors, have been approved.

"We're not almost where we need to be yet", said Dr. Roy Herbst, a Yale Cancer Center lung expert who had no role in the studies.

Rates of serious side effects were similar, but twice as many in the Keytruda group dropped out because of them. More than 69% of the combination group were alive at a year, compared to 49% of those who used chemotherapy alone. "I only treat lung cancer and I've been doing that for about 20 years".

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Recalling a patient with advanced lung cancer whose tumor disappeared and has not grown back after finishing treatment 24 months ago, Gomez said, "I'm now becoming much more optimistic that if we can really find a way to flawless this treatment and to really figure out who are the patients who do the best and why that we may be able to do something like get rid of lung cancer for at least some patients". In it, 616 patients were given chemo and some also received Keytruda. The immunotherapy drugs did not help people with fewer tumor gene flaws.

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

And for those with neither a lot of mutations nor a lot of immune cells, chemotherapy plus Keytruda seems to be the best choice, he said. The median overall survival was 11.3 months in those who did not receive immunotherapy, whereas survival in the immunotherapy group was longer and the median has not yet been reached.

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