Immuno-Chemotherapy Combo Extends Lung Cancer Victim's Survival Period

Immuno-Chemotherapy Combo Extends Lung Cancer Victim's Survival Period

Combining an immunotherapy drug with chemotherapy almost doubled the survival time of some lung cancer patients compared to patients treated with chemotherapy alone, new research published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine showed.

"The data show that treatment with pembrolizumab and chemotherapy together is more effective than chemotherapy alone", said lead investigator Leena Gandhi, director of the thoracic medical oncology program at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found that administering two doses of the anti-PD1 immunotherapy nivolumab for several weeks prior to surgery was not only safe but 45 percent of the patients in the trial responded so well that there was little evidence of the cancer remaining upon follow-up.

Immunotherapy drugs get the immune system to attack tumors.

The results are expected to quickly set a new standard of care for about 70,000 patients each year in the United States whose lung cancer has already spread by the time it's found.

Gandhi said chemotherapy alone had only a "modest benefit", and could add only a few months of life, with most patients surviving about a year or less.

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The study estimates that one year after treatment, 69 percent of patients who received the immunotherapy drug in addition to chemotherapy would still be alive, compared with 49 percent of people who received chemotherapy alone. 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.

Medical experts have already been using immunotherapy to treat different types of cancers. The most common side effects were nausea, anemia and fatigue and in both groups about 65% of patients experienced severe side effects. 'This is really a pivotal study. a new standard of care, ' said Shaw, who has no ties to the drugmakers.

'We're not almost where we need to be yet, ' said Dr. Roy Herbst, a Yale Cancer Center lung expert who had no role in the studies.

The median time until cancer worsened was about 7 months on the immunotherapy drugs versus 5.5 months for chemo. "Chemotherapy has limitations. Immunotherapy has the ability to cure". SU2C is now funding four Cancer Interception teams focusing on lung and pancreatic cancer. 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. "We have patients on these immunotherapies alive more than eight years". Median survival is met when 50% of the patients die. The drugs are given through IVs and cost about $12,500 a month.

"What we look at in these trials is overall survival - how long patients live - and we look at a number called the median survival - how long 50% of patients live", said Gomez.

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