Immuno-Chemotherapy Combo Extends Lung Cancer Victim's Survival Period

Treatment combo improves lung cancer survival times, study finds

Two studies have found what appears to be a major breakthrough in the fight against lung cancer. However, the SU2C-CRI Dream Team researchers hypothesized that leaving the tumor in place during initial treatment with immunotherapy would turn it into an "auto-vaccine" resulting in the activation of tumor-specific T cells that would then circulate through the body and find distant sites of micrometastases, thereby preventing relapse post-surgery which can happen to at least one-half of lung cancer patients who undergo surgery.

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 almost half do. Similarly, the new drug known as checkpoint inhibitors allows the immune system of the patient in order to destroy the deadly cancerous cells.

The research could lead to new treatment regimens.

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Gandhi said chemotherapy alone had only a "modest benefit", and could add only a few months of life, with most patients surviving about a year or less.

One group of 400 patients received standard chemotherapy and the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, while a smaller group of patients received chemotherapy.

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. The studies were sponsored by the drugmakers, and many study leaders and Herbst consult for the companies.

The combined use of standard chemotherapy with pembrolizumab was "superior in terms of response - keeping people alive without progression of their cancer - and improving the overall survival of patients with metastatic lung cancer compared to chemotherapy alone", said Gandhi. He started his lung cancer career as a member of the Thoracic Oncology Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, followed by five years with the Thoracic Oncology Program at the University of Miami.

The findings represent another step forward for immunotherapy, which has been making steady gains against a number of different cancers. The most common side effects were nausea, anemia and fatigue and in both groups about 65% of patients experienced severe side effects.

Other studies presented at the meeting also highlighted advances in immunotherapy against lung cancer, but were at earlier points in the research and less likely to bring about immediate changes in medical practice.

After a median follow-up of 12 months, three-quarters of the patients who underwent surgical resection were alive and recurrence-free. Median survival is met when 50% of the patients die. The median overall survival was 11.3 months in those who did not receive immunotherapy, whereas survival in the immunotherapy group was longer and the median has not yet been reached.

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