Studies find new ways to use immune-boosting lung cancer drugs

Immunotherapies impress in key lung cancer trials

Immunotherapies impress in key lung cancer trials

The five key Principles for improving lung cancer outcomes have been well established: patient-centered care; timely access to evidence-based pathways of care; multidisciplinary care; co-ordination, communication and continuity of care; and data-driven improvements.

Two promising new studies suggest combining Immune Therapy drugs with chemotherapy may improve survival.

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 the study, Merck's Keytruda, given with standard chemotherapy, cut in half the risk of dying or having the cancer worsen, compared to chemo alone after almost one year.

Immunotherapy works by harnessing the body's immune system to attack tumors. The studies were sponsored by the drugmakers, and many study leaders and Herbst consult for the companies. Yet, median survival among the study participants who received both immunotherapy and chemo has not yet been reached.

Dr. Jorge Gomez, a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association and a medical oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NY, explained that "about 220,000 patients are diagnosed with lung cancer a year in the United States".

They cost more than $100,000 a year, can have serious side effects and help only some patients, generally fewer than half.

Gandhi wondered, Would using immunotherapy earlier in treatment, alongside chemotherapy, do more for patients? "I only treat lung cancer and I've been doing that for about 20 years".

Most patients stay on the drugs for two years, he said. The findings could prompt doctors to use immunotherapy as a first line of treatment for lung cancer, despite a hefty price tag of $13,000 per month. In it, 616 patients were given chemo and some also received Keytruda. It is also possible, he said, that chemotherapy may kill some immune cells that interfere with the cancer-killing action of other parts of the immune system.

But patients in the immunotherapy group had more kidney problems, more immune-related adverse events and were more likely to stop treatment because of side effects.

How much it ultimately will extend life isn't known - more than half in the Keytruda group are still alive; median survival was just over 11 months for the others.

The estimated survival at 12 months was 69.2 percent in the group that received immunotherapy, and 49.4 percent in those who did not.

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