BREAK­THROUGH? CAN­CER TREAT­MENT GETS A BIG WIN.

Study: Im­mune ther­apy, paired with chemo, im­proves sur­vival

The Citizens' Voice - - Front Page - BY MARILYNN MARCHIONE

CHICAGO — For the first time, a treat­ment that boosts the im­mune sys­tem greatly im­proved sur­vival in peo­ple newly di­ag­nosed with the most com­mon form of lung can­cer. It’s the big­gest win so far for im­munother­apy, which has had much of its suc­cess un­til now in less com­mon can­cers.

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 nearly one year. 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.

An­other study found that an im­munother­apy combo — the Bris­tol-my­ers Squibb drugs Op­divo and Yer­voy — worked bet­ter than chemo for de­lay­ing the time un­til can­cer wors­ened in ad­vanced lung can­cer pa­tients whose tu­mors have many gene flaws, as nearly half do. But the ben­e­fit lasted less than two months on av­er­age and it’s too soon to know if the combo im­proves over­all sur­vival, as Keytruda did.

All of these im­mune ther­apy treat­ments worked for only about half of pa­tients, but that’s far bet­ter than chemo has done in the past.

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

Re­sults were dis­cussed Mon­day at an Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Can­cer Re­search con­fer­ence in Chicago and pub­lished by the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine. The stud­ies were spon­sored by the drug­mak­ers, and many study lead­ers and Herbst con­sult for the com­pa­nies.

Keytruda, Yer­voy and Op­divo are called check­point in­hibitors. They re­move a cloak that some can­cer cells have that hides them from the im­mune sys­tem. The drugs are given through IVS and cost about $12,500 a month.

Keytruda was ap­proved last year as an ini­tial treat­ment with chemo for the most com­mon form of ad­vanced lung can­cer, but doc­tors have been leery to use it be­cause that was based on a small study that did not show whether it pro­longs life.

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