In another study, the combination of Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo and Yervoy worked better than chemo alone for delaying the time until cancer worsened in advanced lung cancer patients whose tumors have many gene flaws, as almost half do, AP reported.
Two promising new studies suggest combining Immune Therapy drugs with chemotherapy may improve survival.
Keytruda was approved past 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.
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.
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Immunotherapy drugs get the immune system to attack tumors.
"The remarkable results of the team led by Drew Pardoll reflects both the power of collaboration between Stand Up To Cancer, the Cancer Research Institute, and the institutions and researchers participating in this Dream Team, as well as Stand Up's funding model which integrates semi-annual, rigorous, in-person reviews, enabling teams to pivot to where the science leads, and to allocate Team resources to trials which are most likely to benefit patients", said Nobel Laureate and Chairperson of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Institute professor at the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.
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.
The study, a phase III clinical trial testing treatment effectiveness and side effects, included 616 patients at 118 medical facilities around the globe. The studies were sponsored by the drugmakers, and many study leaders and Herbst consult for the companies.
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'We're not almost where we need to be yet, ' said Dr. Roy Herbst, a Yale Cancer Center lung expert who had no role in the studies.
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.
The findings represent another step forward for immunotherapy, which has been making steady gains against a number of different cancers.
The median time until cancer worsened was about 7 months on the immunotherapy drugs versus 5.5 months for chemo. 'This is really a pivotal study. a new standard of care, ' said Shaw, who has no ties to the drugmakers. "I only treat lung cancer and I've been doing that for about 20 years". The report shows that 3.8 million people were diagnosed with cancer each year and more than 2.2 million patients died. By killing some tumor cells, chemotherapy could pop open the bags, release the contents and help immune cells - unleashed by the checkpoint drugs - to identify their prey.
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"I think we were all surprised at the magnitude of benefit and how clear the difference was at an early analysis, and that we could tell there was an overall survival difference", Gandhi said, adding that there was "a lot of excitement" at the conference about her study and several others involving immunotherapy.