New Drugs May Be Big Advance in Lung Cancer Care

Treatment combo improves lung cancer survival times study finds

Immune-boosting drugs given in conjunction with chemotherapy significantly extended life for people with the most common type of lung cancer, according to clinical trials.

The combination treatment also drove down the risk that the cancer would spread by almost as much, added the research team from NYU Langone Health in New York City.

Doctors already prescribe Keytruda to patients if a blood test shows that they are likely to respond to this drug.

"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.

But the survival rate for patients that took Keytruda was dramatically higher: 69.2 percent.

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. Serious side effects were a little more common in the chemo group. While that's a notable difference, the drug did not stop cancer entirely in most patients. It's a sign that checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda, which unleash a patient's immune system to fight cancer, are on their way to becoming first-line therapies for cancer.

Gandhi wondered, Would using immunotherapy earlier in treatment, alongside chemotherapy, do more for patients?

The NCC said in its recent report that lung cancer leads the cancer incidence table for male patients and ranks second among females, but the mortality of lung cancer is highest for both sexes, Global Times reports. "It's not a home run yet but it's a pretty good double". The study was published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine. They remove a cloak that some cancer cells have that hides them from the immune system. 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."

The "auto-vaccine" might result in the activation of tumor-specific T cells that would then circulate through the body and find distant sites of micrometastases, thereby preventing relapse post-surgery which can happen to at least one-half of lung cancer patients who undergo surgery.

A course of treatment with Keytruda can cost $150,000, so an expanded market could mean billions of dollars in additional revenue.

Previously, chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy is given to lung cancer patients to shrink a large, non-metastasized tumor while immunotherapeutic agents have been administered after surgery with limited results. Keytruda is also used to treat melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach, head, neck and bladder.

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

Notably, the incidence rate of lung cancer among non-smoking Chinese females is rising comparatively faster compared with those in western countries. 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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