Immunotherapy combo ‘packs punch’ against melanoma
Immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system in order to attack cancer, is more potent against melanoma when two agents are combined, but side effects rise too, researchers said Sunday.
Findings of a randomized phase III trial compared nivolumab (Opdivo) alone or in combination with ipilimumab (Yervoy) and found the pair was “significantly more effective than ipilimumab alone,” according to the results presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.
Both drugs are known as checkpoint inhibitors which boost the immune system’s ability to tackle tumors, and are made by the pharmaceutical company Bristol MyersSquibb, which funded the study.
Opdivo and Yervoy are monoclonal antibodies that block different immune checkpoints. Opdivo blocks PD-1 and Yervoy blocks CTLA-4, making it easier for the immune system to attack cancer.
Both have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as single agents in patients whose melanoma cannot be removed by surgery, or whose melanoma has spread to other organs and no longer responds to other drugs.
The combined treatment, which consists of four doses, costs about US$125,000.
In 945 patients who were never treated before for their advanced skin cancer, the research found that Opdivo alone was far better than Yervoy when it came to extending the time before the cancer began to advance again.
Yervoy stopped melanoma from progressing for nearly three months, while Opdivo did so for nearly seven months.
But when taken together, the pair staved off melanoma progression for 11.5 months, the study found.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and some 132,000 cases are diagnosed each year worldwide.
Immunotherapy doesn’t work for everyone, and researchers are still working to figure out why.
In the current study, those taking the duo were far more likely to see their tumors shrink (57.6 percent of patients showed some response) than Opdivo (43.7 percent) alone.
Among those taking Yervoy alone, 19 percent responded to the treatment by experiencing tumor shrinkage, but 5 percent actually saw their cancer grow.
Researchers also noted that serious drug-related side effects were reported by more than half of those in the combination group (55 percent), and 36 percent of patients in this group had to stop the therapy due to side effects.