A recent clinical trial revealed that an immunotherapy drug was proven more effective than chemo in lung cancer. During the trial, pembrolizumab helped all patients with a specific form of lung cancer attain a better survival rates than their peers on traditional chemotherapy.
Study authors said that the study results were compelling enough to promote the drug as a viable therapy options for all lung cancer patients whose cancer cells contain a protein named PD-L1.
A paper on the trial was published this week in the medical journal The Lancet, but the findings were first unveiled at a meeting of European Society for Medical Oncology in Singapore.
Immunotherapy drugs interact with patients’ immune systems to fight off the disease. Pembrolizumab which is marketed under the name of Keytruda already has a FDA approval for the deadly form of skin cancer, or melanoma, and other types of non-small-cell lung cancers in advanced stages.
The drug acts just like an antibody that attacks the pathways that bind a molecule called PD-L1 to its receptor. Many forms of cancer lead to deadly consequences just by rendering immune cells that target those pathways harmless.
But the said drug has the ability to block those pathways and boost the immune response of a patient’s body, researchers explained. In melanoma and lung cancer, pembrolizumab was already proven effective in inhibiting cancer spread at a relatively small cost in toxicity.
While chemotherapy still is the first-line treatment in advanced lung cancer, Keytruda could be used as a backup plan in advanced non-small-cell lung cancer.
I the trial, researchers compared pembrolizumab with a common chemo drug called docetaxel. After administering the drug every three weeks, survival rates within the immunotherapy group greatly improved as compared with the chemotherapy group.
But the benefits were even greater in patients with a higher incidence of the PD-L1 protein in tumors.
The trial which lasted two years involved 1,034 lung cancer patients from three continents. Patients were randomly given either pembrolizumab or docetaxel. In all patients, tests had shown that 1 percent to 49 percent of their tumors contained the PD-L1 molecule.
Immunotherapy was all the more effective when PD-L1 occurrence was higher. Survival rates jumped from the average 8.2 months with chemotherapy to 14.9 months if the FDA recommended dose (2 mg) was used and 17.3 months with a 10 mg dose.
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