Trial: Immunotherapy more effective than chemo for lung cancer

A new UCLA study shows Keytruda is more effective than chemotherapy for lung cancer.
By Stephen Feller  |  Dec. 22, 2015 at 4:19 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The drug pembrolizumab, sold in the United States as Keytruda, was shown to be more effective against lung cancer than chemotherapy, according to a new study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles.

The drug was approved in October by the Food and Drug Administration for use with a specific group of advanced non-small cell lung cancer patients with a genetic mutation. Former President Jimmy Carter's cancer also was successfully treated with Keytruda.

Keytruda targets a protein expressed by immune cells that is exploited by cancer cells. By targeting the protein, the immune system can more strongly attack tumor cells.

"By continuing to refine and expand our selection of patients who stand to benefit from this type of therapy, we are profoundly changing the way that patients with this common cancer are treated," said Dr. Edward Garon, a researcher at UCLA, in a press release. "For most patients, this now offers data showing that immunotherapy leads to superior clinical outcomes with a side effect profile that is generally favorable to our traditional therapies."

In the study, researchers enrolled 1,034 patients between 2013 and 2015, randomly giving them one of two dosage sizes of pembrolizumab or the chemotherapy drug docetaxel. The researchers found no significant difference in overall survival between the docetaxel and a low dose of pembrolizumab, however a higher dose of the immunotherapy drug was significantly more effective than the chemotherapy.

"This treatment provides real hope of long-lasting responses while avoiding the toxicities of typical chemotherapy in a broad population of lung cancer patients," Garon said. "We are excited that these results have identified a larger group of patients for whom in general, immunotherapy is a superior treatment option than traditional approaches."

The study is published in The Lancet.

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