Merck, Bristol-Myers immunotherapies impress in key lung cancer trials

Press briefing moderator Alice Shaw, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, said results did establish a new standard of care for untreated, advanced nonsquamous NSCLC.

Ghandi and her colleagues studied 616 patients with untreated metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NS-NSCLC) in a Phase 3 clinical trial called KEYNOTE-189: 410 patients were treated with a combination of chemotherapy and the immune checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab, while 206 patients received chemotherapy and a placebo.

Pembrolizumab has already replaced chemotherapy as the treatment of choice in patients with tumors that express PD-L1 in more than 50 percent of cells, according to the AACR statement.

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.

In addition to the Stand Up To Cancer - Cancer Research Institute Cancer Immunology Translational Research Grant, this study was supported by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and the International Immuno-Oncology Network, LUNGevity Foundation, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer & Prevent Cancer, Lung Cancer Foundation of America, the MacMillan Foundation, ECOG-ACRIN, the National Institutes of Health, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation, the Commonwealth Foundation, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Support Grant, and the Johns Hopkins University Cancer Center Support Grant.

The study involved Keytruda, the immunotherapy drug by Merck that was the first cancer medication that received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They worked better than chemo at slowing the cancer's progression, but it's still unclear if they allow people to live longer. One Yale patient who has survived for eight years took the drug for two years and has remained well ever since. In patients who received the combination treatment, 48 percent saw their tumors shrink considerably, compared with 19 percent who only received chemotherapy.

Unlike traditional treatment, immunotherapies encourage the body's natural defences to target and destroy cancer cells, new research has revealed. In addition to the named Interception Teams, three additional SU2C-funded teams are engaged in interception-like approaches to treat multiple myeloma, colon cancer and ovarian cancer.

In the meantime, it also remains to be seen whether immunotherapy will also be a possible method to attack other forms of cancer to go along with kindness and compassion. Then, they underwent the surgery they needed for their type of the disease, lung cancer. In that group, survival without worsening of disease was 43 percent after one year for those on the immunotherapy drugs versus 13 percent of those on chemo.

After a median follow-up of 10.5 months, those in the immunotherapy group were half as likely to die.

"This study showed a clear difference in long-term outcomes", said Dr. Leena Gandhi, the study's primary investigator, who called the results "practice changing".

Patients were tested for a biomarker used to predict whether pembrolizumab is likely to help them.

Secondary endpoints in the study included overall response rate (ORR) and duration of response. Those with high levels of the marker fared somewhat better with immunotherapy than those with low levels - but even those with low levels were helped. "We're making progress, but still only benefiting 30 to 40 percent of patients".

  • Santos West