Immune therapy can help lung cancer patients live longer: studies

Patients with advanced lung cancer may live longer if they are administered drugs that boost their immune system along with chemotherapy, new US studies say. The researches involved immune-based cancer drugs called checkpoint inhibitors which help the body’s immune system to detect cancer cells, attack them and weaken lung tumours. The drugs target protein PD-1, and its related PD-L1, or CTLA-4, which protect the body’s cells from being killed by immune system. These drugs have already been a success in treating skin cancers.

In one study called CheckMate-227, a combination of two checkpoint inhibitor drugs nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy) were tested. After nearly a year, the lung cancer in people taking immunotherapy was 42% less likely to have progressed than among those getting chemotherapy. Although lung cancer treatments rely heavily on chemotherapy, focus is shifting to precision-based treatments to improve a patient’s chances of survival. Dr. Matthew Hellmann of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and lead author of the study said more than 50% of people with lung cancer can avoid chemotherapy and get more precision-based treatments.

In another study, researchers found that combining standard chemotherapy with another immune-based checkpoint inhibitor, pembrolizumab (Keytruda), helped lung cancer patients live nearly four months longer on average than people treated with just chemotherapy. Patients getting the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy were 51% less likely to die after 10.5 months than people receiving chemotherapy alone, said Dr Leena Gandhi, associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and co-author of the study.

The third study was co-authored by Mark Rubinstein from Darlington County and John Wrangle of the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. The study focused on non-small cell lung cancer (pictured), the most common form of lung cancer, and promised therapy that can be delivered in an outpatient setting. Their therapy was a combination of the checkpoint drug, nivolumab, with a new and powerful immune stimulation drug, ALT-803.  This novel combination is a huge step forward in cancer treatment.