New lung cancer treatment described as ‘brilliant’

Researchers have developed an antibody that pushes the immune system to fight tumor cells in a manner more effective than customary chemotherapy for individuals with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), according to a new study presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology conference this weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In a three-phase clinical trial, previously untreated patients provided with the drug, known as pembrolizumab, showed a response more frequently, lived longer, and had less indications of disease advancement after 10 months than patients undergoing chemotherapy. More specifically, the drug was found to cut the chance of disease progression in half and lower overall deaths by 40 percent, as opposed to treatment with chemotherapy alone.

Amazing Outcomes

The outcomes were so brilliant that scientists paused the trial so all patients under their care could switch to the drug. The findings of the trial have also been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Remember this day. It’s a new day for lung cancer treatment,” Stefan Zimmermann of the University Hospital in Lausanne Switzerland told reporters at the European conference.

Pembrolizumab, developed by the company Merck under the brand name Keytruda, has been approved as a second-line medical treatment for particular advanced head-and-neck cancers by the FDA, but its value as a first-line treatment had not yet been proven. In an earlier trial, a comparable drug called Opdivo did not hit its expected target, with outcomes revealing it was no more effective than chemotherapy for treating lung cancer.

The new trial, however, was meant for patients with a specified kind of NSCLC. The majority of these patients’ cancer cells held PD-L1, a protein that blocks white blood cells from needlessly killing off good cells, but can also aid cancer cells in avoiding destruction. According to the research team, about a quarter of advanced NSCLC cases meet this criterion.

For these patients, Keytruda decreased the risk of death during the study by around 40 percent as opposed to conventional medical care. A smaller trial of Keytruda discovered that combined treatment with chemotherapy proved even more successful than either therapy by itself.


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