Im­munother­apy can­cer drug hailed as ‘game changer’

Malta Independent - - HEALTH -

An im­munother­apy drug has been de­scribed as a po­ten­tial “game-changer” in promis­ing re­sults pre­sented at the Euro­pean Can­cer Congress.

In a study of head and neck can­cer, more pa­tients tak­ing nivolumab sur­vived for longer com­pared with those who were treated with chemo­ther­apy.

In an­other study, com­bin­ing nivolumab with an­other drug shrank tu­mours in ad­vanced kid­ney can­cer pa­tients.

Im­munother­apy works by har­ness­ing the im­mune sys­tem to de­stroy can­cer cells.

Ad­vanced head and neck can­cer has very poor sur­vival rates.

In a trial of more than 350 pa­tients, pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine, 36% treated with the im­munother­apy drug nivolumab were alive after one year com­pared with 17% who re­ceived chemo­ther­apy.

Pa­tients also ex­pe­ri­enced fewer side ef­fects from im­munother­apy.

The ben­e­fits were more pro­nounced in pa­tients whose tu­mours had tested pos­i­tive for HPV (hu­man pa­pil­lo­mavirus). These pa­tients sur­vived an av­er­age of 9.1 months with nivolumab and 4.4 months with chemo­ther­apy.

Nor­mally, this group of pa­tients, with ad­vanced or treat­ment-re­sis­tant tu­mours, are ex­pected to live less than six months.

Early data from a study of 94 pa­tients with ad­vanced kid­ney can­cer showed that the dou­ble hit of nivolumab and ip­il­i­mumab re­sulted in a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in the size of tu­mours in 40% of pa­tients.

Of these pa­tients, one in 10 had no sign of can­cer re­main­ing.

This com­pares with 5% of pa­tients show­ing tu­mour re­duc­tion after stan­dard ther­apy.

About 12,000 peo­ple are di­ag­nosed with kid­ney can­cer in the UK each year and an av­er­age of 12 peo­ple die from the dis­ease each day.

As yet, nivolumab has only been ap­proved for treat­ing skin can­cer and in June it be­came one of the fastest medicines ever ap­proved for NHS use, in com­bi­na­tion with ip­il­i­mumab, for the same can­cer.

Nivolumab and ip­il­i­mumab both work by in­ter­rupt­ing the chem­i­cal signals that can­cers use to con­vince the im­mune sys­tem they are healthy tis­sue.

Prof Kevin Har­ring­ton of the In­sti­tute of Can­cer Re­search and con­sul­tant at the Royal Mars­den Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don, who led the head and neck can­cer trial, said nivolumab could be a real “game changer” for pa­tients with ad­vanced head and neck can­cer.

“This trial found that it can greatly ex­tend life among a group of pa­tients who have no ex­ist­ing treat­ment op­tions, with­out wors­en­ing quality of life.

“Once it has re­lapsed or spread, head and neck can­cer is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to treat. So it’s great news that these re­sults in­di­cate we now have a new treat­ment that can sig­nif­i­cantly ex­tend life, and I’m keen to see it en­ter the clinic as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Prof Paul Work­man, chief ex­ec­u­tive of The In­sti­tute of Can­cer Re­search, said nivolumab was one of a new wave of im­munother­a­pies that were be­gin­ning to have an im­pact across can­cer treat­ment.

He added: “We hope reg­u­la­tors can work with the man­u­fac­turer to avoid de­lays in get­ting this drug to pa­tients who have no ef­fec­tive treat­ment op­tions left to them.”

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