16th April 2018

Combination immunotherapy points to fresh first-line options for patients with late-stage lung cancer

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The results of trials carried out in the US may point the way towards new applications for immunotherapy drugs, used in combination, as ‘first line’ treatments for patients diagnosed with certain types of late-stage lung cancer.

Latest trials could offer new hope to people living with lung cancer

Data from the Checkmate 227 trial carried out by Bristol-Myers Squibb shows that combining the use of nivolumab (which has the trade name Opdivo) with ipilimumab (trade name Yervoy) is better at keeping the progression of the disease in check than using either alone as a first treatment option.

The trial also investigated a new biomarker called tumour mutation burden (TMB). The underlying idea is that the more mutations a tumour has, the more likely it is that the patient’s own immune system will be able to recognise it – and attack it.

For lung cancer patients with high levels of TMB, the treatment was more effective than chemotherapy in keeping cancer from progressing.

As we can see from these trials, immunotherapy is a rapidly-developing area which may provide a brighter future for lung cancer patients and those who love them.

Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

And another pharma firm, Merck, has revealed that its own trial, using pembrolizumab (trade name Keytruda) with conventional chemotherapy (pemetrrexed and platinum) led to “significantly longer” overall survival and progression-free survival in late-stage lung cancer patients compared with using chemo alone.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, the only UK charity dedicated solely to lung cancer, has greeted the data as ‘very encouraging, and a clear sign that the field of immunotherapy really is creating brighter horizons and offering fresh hope for patients living with advanced lung cancer’.

Paula Chadwick, the charity’s chief executive, said:

“There is an urgent need for treatments that will give patients more time without compromising their quality of life. Most lung cancers are diagnosed at stage four which means that the tumours have spread.

“The median survival of people diagnosed with lung cancer is 200 days, with 37% surviving for more than one year and only 10% surviving more than five years; but if caught early, there is up to a 73% increased chance of surviving over five years.

“For many people living with advanced lung cancer, every additional day of life provides opportunities to share time with their families, their friends and loved ones, so this data is very encouraging.

“As we can see from these trials, immunotherapy is a rapidly-developing area which may provide a brighter future for lung cancer patients and those who love them. While this combination of therapies is not yet a treatment available to patients in the UK, it clearly shows that there is fresh hope on the horizon.

“These are exciting times for all who are passionately dedicated to improving outcomes for lung cancer patients.”

Lung cancer remains the UK’s biggest cancer killer. Every year, 46,000 people are diagnosed with the disease and it claims around 36,000 lives each year.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation advocates for ALL appropriate immunotherapy drugs and other treatments to be available for ALL UK lung patients who might benefit.