New Drugs May Be Big Advance In Lung Cancer Care

MONDAY, April 16, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Drugs designed to trigger a patient's immune system may help boost survival for those battling lung cancer, two new studies found.

The first study found that when the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was combined with standard chemotherapy, the chance that a patient would die within the next 11 months plummeted by more than 50 percent, compared with being treated with chemo alone.

The combination treatment also drove down the risk that the cancer would spread by nearly as much, added the research team from NYU Langone Health in New York City.

In a similar vein, another team of researchers gave patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer either a combination of the immunotherapy drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab), or standard chemotherapy. Those on the two immunotherapy drugs were 42 percent less likely to see their disease progress after a year.

Taken together, the two findings offer an encouraging note in an effort to improve the odds against what is the leading cause of cancer-related death, experts said.

"Chemotherapy remains the standard of care for the majority of [lung cancer] patients, and is a very poor standard," explained Dr. Leena Gandhi, lead author of the NYU Langone study. In most cases, she said, chemo prolongs life by just a year or even less.

But the combination approach "resulted in a marked improvement in response, progression-free survival and overall survival in all patients," she said.

Gandhi is director of Langone's Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at the Perlmutter Cancer Center.

The researchers involved in both studies are scheduled to present their findings Monday at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting, in Chicago.

The studies were also published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The second study was led by Dr. Matthew Hellmann, assistant attending at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Gandhi's team enlisted more than 600 lung cancer patients from over 118 treatment centers around the world.

Of these, roughly two-thirds was randomly assigned to receive Keytruda and chemotherapy. The remaining third was treated with chemotherapy alone.

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