New Immune Therapies Show Major Promise In Shrinking Cancer Tumors

CHICAGO (AP) — For the first time, a major study shows that a drug targeting the body’s disease-fighting immune system may improve survival for the most common form of lung cancer.

These newer kinds of drugs have transformed treatment of melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Studies presented at a conference Friday suggest these “immune therapies” can play a broader role in more common cancers, including lung, liver, colon and head and neck.

Doctors also may have found a way to help predict which patients would respond best to one of these newer treatments, according to research presented at the Chicago meeting. Immune therapy drugs are aimed at helping the body’s immune system recognize and attack cancer.

The lung cancer study tested Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (op-DEE-voh), which blocks a protein that prevents the immune system from attacking cancer cells. It worked better than chemotherapy for patients with a form of non-small cell lung cancer that is diagnosed in more than 120,000 people nationwide each year.

Opdivo, also called nivolumab, was approved in March for a less common form of lung cancer, and late last year for melanoma. Two other immunotherapies are approved for melanoma — Keytruda and Yervoy.

“These drugs are among the most promising drugs that have come along” in many years, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the meeting’s organizer.

“What we’re seeing is … a broader scope of activity for these drugs,” Schilsky said.

Any success against lung cancer is considered welcome. Patients are often diagnosed when the disease is advanced. It’s the No. 1 cancer killer in the country — about 220,000 men and women are expected to be diagnosed this year and nearly 160,000 people will die of the disease, the American Cancer Society estimates.

In the new study, almost 600 patients were randomly —> Read More