Lung cancer survival improves with immunotherapy, according to studies

Stefanie Joho 27 in Penn Valley Pa. last spring was treated with Merck’s Keytruda for advanced colon cancer. A new study shows that the immunotherapy drug when combined with chemotherapy also prolongs survival in patients with advanced lung cance

"A new cancer treatment can help some lung cancer tumors "[melt] away", seriously prolonging patients' lives, according to a series of breakthrough studies revealed this week.

The immune therapy treatments worked for only about half of the patients in the study.

In the video below, Gandhi - who manages the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at New York University Langone Health - explains that the combo treatment has proved "superior in terms of response, keeping people alive without progression of their cancer", as well as "improving the overall survival of patients with metastatic lung cancer" in comparison with chemotherapy alone. Lung cancer is the number cause of cancer death, both in the United States and globally.

Gandhi explained that the reason non-small cell lung cancer is so deadly is the existing chemotherapy drugs provide only limited survival benefits for patients. "We are going to have major increases in survival in the next 20 years, which would have been hard to say ten or 15 years ago".

Keytruda is part of a class of immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors, which act by stimulaing the immune system to attack cancer cells.

The study, a phase III clinical trial testing treatment effectiveness and side effects, included 616 patients at 118 medical facilities around the globe.

Merck & Co's immunotherapy Keytruda lung cancer tests yielded positive results, improving the firm's lead position in the oncology market. "And the differences were not small".

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Researchers have found the drug Keytruda, when given along with standard chemotherapy, cut the risk of dying from the disease in half compared with chemo alone.

Still, the drug has side effects - notably, about 5 percent of patients in the immunotherapy group experienced acute kidney problems, compared with 0.5 percent of patients in the control group.

A total of 405 patients were treated with both pembrolizumab and platinum plus pemetrexed, and 202 received platinum plus pemetrexed with a saline placebo.

Scientists have hailed the new approach, called "cancer interception", a "game-changer" potentially capable of stopping the disease in its tracks. Median survival is met when 50% of the patients die.

Dr. Matthew Hellman of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY, who led the study, and others said it was a validation of the TMB biomarker.

"The addition of pembrolizumab to chemotherapy resulted in significantly higher rates of response and longer progression-free survival than chemotherapy alone", her team writes in their paper.

They said the nivolumab effectively converted the lung tumours into an "auto-vaccine", pumping the cancer-killing cells around the body. These drugs are very, very interesting. "We do need to focus more on how to differentiate the patients who will get the most benefit". It seems that the more creative use of these miraculous drugs can help fight off lung cancer too.

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