Study sees immune therapy scoring big win against lung cancer

Study sees immune therapy scoring big win against lung cancer

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. The data are not conclusive, but Herbst said, "In lung cancer, my suspicion is these drugs are the same, like Coke vs. Pepsi". One study, conducted by scientists at New York University, involved more than 600 patients with advanced lung cancer.

Another study found that patients with advanced cancer fared better if they received Keytruda, an immune therapy from Merck, along with chemotherapy. That combo could soon become a routine treatment.

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.

"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. The three studies were all presented at the annual conference of the American Association for Cancer Research, now ongoing in Chicago.

Keytruda, Yervoy and Opdivo are called checkpoint inhibitors.

The idea of turning the immune system against cancer got a big boost over the last few days, with a trio of studies showing the approach's effectiveness against lung cancer. The drugs are given through IVs and cost about $12,500 a month.

Keytruda - developed by pharmaceutical giant Merck, which also funded the study - turns off cancer cell's protective functions, letting the immune system recognize and attack the 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. Yet, median survival among the study participants who received both immunotherapy and chemo has not yet been reached. Keytruda is also used to treat melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach, head, neck and bladder.

After one year, 69 percent of people originally assigned to Keytruda were alive versus 49 percent of the others - a result that experts called remarkable considering that the second group's survival was improved because half of them wound up switching. The studies simultaneously were published by the New England Journal of Medicine on a day that some experts called the “Super Bowl of lung cancer immunotherapy.”. And he said the trial showed that “tumor mutational burden” is a reliable way to predict who will benefit from the medications. Many times, they give it after chemotherapy has failed. "This is a huge step forward for patients with lung cancer to have so many new options".

Further trials will test the methods on patients with bowel and ovarian cancer.

Of 679 patients, 299 had a high number of gene flaws in their tumors.

One group of 400 patients received standard chemotherapy and the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, while a smaller group of patients received chemotherapy. 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.