Scientists estimate that by 2022, more than half of cancer patients will receive immunotherapy drugs
Experts believe it will lead to the revolutionary therapy Keytruda being approved by the UK as a default treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer – Britain’s third most common form of the disease, which afflicts more than 20,000 people.
Until now new immunotherapy drugs, hailed by cancer specialists as one of the biggest advances in decades, have been shown to be effective only in patients who have a specific genetic variant of lung cancer.
These account for around 30 per cent of patients whose tumours have high levels of PDL1 mutations, known as “hot tumours”, which are more recognisable to immunotherapy drugs.
But until now patients who have no or low levels of the mutation have been found to obtain far less, or no benefit, from the drugs.
In the trial all 616 patients with advanced lung cancer were treated with the new immunotherapy drug alongside standard chemotherapy.
The findings, presented to the American Association of Cancer Research, shows those on the combined chemotherapy and immunotherapy trial were 51 per cent less likely to die during the two-year trial period, compared with those on just chemotherapy.
The study, the largest of its kind, showed 19 per cent of patients on chemotherapy alone saw their tumours shrink by 20 per cent, compared with an average of 48 per cent of those on the combined treatment.
One of the study’s researchers, Dr Toby Talbot of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “These results are remarkable. I believe this is the biggest advance in lung cancer treatment in many years and I am looking forward to seeing this enter UK clinical practice.
“Immunoncology is very rapidly developing as a huge component of how we treat cancer and it will probably displace chemotherapy.”
Immunoncology is very rapidly developing as a huge component of how we treat cancer and it will probably displace chemotherapy
Dr Toby Talbot
He added: “I believe within just three to four years more than half of patients will have immunotherapy treatment in their cancer journey and these treatments will clearly become the backbone of how we treat a significant number of cancers.”
Scientists believe the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy injures the cancer cells, with the chemotherapy making them more visible to the immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy drugs have also been approved for other types of cancer, including melanoma, bladder and kidney.
The UK has the second worse survival rate for lung cancer in Europe, with only eight per cent of patients surviving more than five years.
Scientists estimate that by 2022, more than half of cancer patients will receive immunotherapy drugs.
A spokeswoman for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said the authority could not comment until it had received data on the results of the trial for an appraisal to take place.
Doreen Harnett was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in September 2016
Tumours are nearly gone …it’s amazing
DOREEN Harnett was put on the combination therapy drugs trial after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in September 2016, writes Lucy Johnston.
The former shop assistant visited her GP after experiencing shortness of breath and feeling unwell.
She was diagnosed with cancer, which had already spread to both lungs, many of her lymph nodes and her abdomen.
But two years later, Doreen has found herself in remission.
She now has only two more infusions to go to complete the course and her tumours have almost disappeared.
The mother-of-two from Truro, Cornwall, said of the Keytruda therapy: “This drug is amazing.
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“After the first infusion of the drug I started feeling better and now I feel terrific. I feel so lucky. People would say, ‘How awful, you have lung cancer’ and I think that they didn’t believe me because after going on the treatment I didn’t look ill.
“I didn’t realise just how good the treatment would be. I feel younger than a 70-year-old. I feel great.”
Delighted Doreen added: “Everyone with lung cancer should have access to this drug.
“This disease is the most frightening thing and to be so ill and then two years later feel as fit as a fiddle – why not?”
Dr Roger Perlmutter, chief scientist of Merck, the company that manufactures the drug, said the “unambiguous” results had exceeded all expectations.
He said: “As a first-line treatment, this is better than anything we know about.”
Read more here: Daily Express :: Health Feedhappy wheels
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