Immunotherapy boosts survival outlook for lung cancer patients

Better survival rates for patients who took pembrolizumab sans chemotherapy

June 02, 2019 09:16 pm | Updated 09:20 pm IST - Chicago

Immunotherapy works by leveraging the body’s own immune system to fight disease.

Immunotherapy works by leveraging the body’s own immune system to fight disease.

An immunotherapy treatment helped significantly boost survival rates among patients suffering from advanced lung cancer, according to the results of a clinical trial cited by researchers on Saturday.

Almost 25% of patients who received the drug pembrolizumab and had not previously received chemotherapy were alive after five years, said the study which was presented at annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The figure dropped to just over 15% for patients who had previously received chemotherapy.

“The uniformly negative outlook that has been associated with a diagnosis of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is certainly no longer appropriate,” said lead author Edward Garon, an associate professor at UCLA.

The five-year survival rate was 5.5% in the pre-immunotherapy era.

Unlike chemotherapy, immunotherapy works by leveraging the body’s own immune system to fight disease.

More effective T-cells

In this case, the drug acts by turning off a brake in the immune system, a protein called PD-1, which then allows cancer-fighting T-cells to attack faster and more effectively. “I describe it as sort of changing the thermostat, in terms of how willing the immune system is to tolerate something versus reject it,” Mr. Garon said.

David Graham, an oncologist at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, who was not involved with the study, said: “It’s truly remarkable that for more patients than ever before, we no longer have to count survival in months.”

According to Mr. Garon, the trial proved there are groups of patients “who do have long-term survival prospect, and that does change the way we talk to our patients about the disease.”

Moving forward, his team would like to identify other biomarkers to further improve survival rates.

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