And it turns out that Keytruda, in combination with standard chemotherapy, also works in patients even if they have a low score on the blood test, which measures something called the tumor proportion score for PD-L1.
Recalling a patient with advanced lung cancer whose tumor disappeared and has not grown back after finishing treatment 24 months ago, Gomez said, "I'm now becoming much more optimistic that if we can really find a way to flawless this treatment and to really figure out who are the patients who do the best and why that we may be able to do something like get rid of lung cancer for at least some patients". One group was treated only with chemo, while the other got an immunotherapy drug called Keytruda plus chemo.
The findings represent another step forward for immunotherapy, which has been making steady gains against a number of different cancers.
"It's a big deal", Dr. Roy Herbst, head of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center, told Shots.
The research could lead to new treatment regimens
There's encouraging news for cancer treatments that stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, killing more than 150,000 people a year.
She was scheduled to present the results Monday in Chicago at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, and they were also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A new study on immunotherapy Keytruda found that using the treatment, in combination with chemotherapy, dramatically increases the survival rates of patients with lung cancer. Checkpoint inhibitors are one of two main types of immunotherapy. And among those in the comparison group, who got a placebo and chemotherapy, 99 percent reported side effects. Herbst compares it with inflammation around a cut, which marshals the immune system into action, only in this case the wound being targeted is debris from dead cancer cells.
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Scientists who werent involved in the study agreed that it was highly significant.
Patients in the study had an advanced stage of non-squamous non-small-cell lung cancer. Patients with those mutations (called EGFR and ALK) were not included in this study, and instead were referred to treatment with the drugs that target their mutation.
A year and a half after treatment, the disease had returned in three-quarters of patients with the new treatment.
Hellmann's study, called CheckMate 227, found that advanced tumors that contain a lot of genetic mutations - often from smoking - respond particularly well to a combination of two immune therapy drugs, Yervoy and Opdivo, both from Bristol-Myers Squibb.
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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. "We have patients on these immunotherapies are alive more than eight years".
Most patients stay on the drugs for two years, he said. The immunotherapy drugs did not help people with fewer tumor gene flaws.
The estimated survival at 12 months was 69.2 percent in the group that received immunotherapy, and 49.4 percent in those who did not.
After a median followup of 10.5 months, those in the immunotherapy group were half as likely to die.
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