The Irish Mail on Sunday
Lung cancer drug gives patients two extra years
‘Amazing’ trial results in US
AN ‘ AMAZING’ breakthrough in lung cancer research has given patients in a US trial at least another two years of life.
Scientists are preparing to tell the world’s biggest cancer conference that one quarter of patients treated with immunotherapy drugs such as nivolumab have beaten the odds.
Prof. John Crown, consultant oncologist at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, welcomed the breakthrough.
‘That is unbelievable. There has been some very interesting early data before this on lung cancer, but this looks really great,’ he said.
‘The thought that an immune system treatment would work on lung cancer – which is a cancer that other immune treatments have never worked on before – is amazingly
The beauty is there are no
good news. We have a very high mortality rate, tragically, in Ireland because of smoking and the outcome of lung cancer is not as good as it is for other cancers, so it’s great to see this activity.’
At the end of the month, ‘extraordinary’ trial results for the antibody drug will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
Nivolumab is one of a new class of drugs called anti-PD1s and antiPDL1s, which help the immune system to ‘understand’ that tumours are really deadly enemies.
In the trial, a quarter of 129 patients with advanced lung cancer, who previously had conventional treatment such as chemotherapy, have survived at least two years after starting nivolumab.
Dr Mick Peake from the British National Cancer Intelligence Network said: ‘You would expect patients in that group to survive a few months, if you are lucky. So to get 24% living to two years is extraordinary.’
Dr Peake explained how the drugs work: ‘Tumours develop a cloak, a bit like a Star Wars forcefield around themselves. This stops the immune system from attacking them. These drugs take that forcefield away and allow the body’s own immune response to fight the tumour. The drugs don’t kill them, the body’s immune system does.’
He added: ‘The beauty is we do not have all the adverse side-effects of conventional treatment.’
The drug has also been successfully used to treat patients with advanced skin cancer.
Nivolumab is being tested in patients with non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for almost nine in 10 cases of lung cancer.
Dr Julie Brahmer of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, who helped spearhead trials of the drug in the US, said it was ‘a little too early’ to describe it as a cure for some patients. But she said: ‘That’s what our hope is.’
She has also seen patients whose tumours have shrunk to almost nothing with some people still well three years after treatment began.
Lung cancer kills more people than any other type of cancer in Ireland. According to the Irish Cancer Society, it is is the fourth most common cancer in this country with about 2,000 cases diagnosed annually. By the time it is spotted, it has often spread to other organs – and patients may die within months of diagnosis.