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Drug, chemo combo double survival in metastatic lung cancer

Drug, chemo combo double survival in metastatic lung cancer

Merck & Co's immunotherapy Keytruda plus chemotherapy significantly improved overall survival in newly-diagnosed patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer in a closely-watched study, cementing its lead position over Bristol-Myers Squibb Co and others in the most lucrative oncology market.

"Lung cancer is the greatest cause of cancer death worldwide and for most patients with newly diagnosed advanced NSCLC, chemotherapy has always been the standard", Matthew Hellmann, M.D., assistant attending at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said in a press release. Non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, is the most common type of lung cancer.

Non-squamous lung cancer patients make up about 80% of all the non-small cell lung cancers, so that amounts to over 150,000 patients in the U.S. each year, said Gomez, who was not involved in the new study.

The drug, called pembrolizumab and sold under the brand name Keytruda, helps the immune system detect and fight cancer cells, according to Merck, the drug's maker. It seems that the only condition for this therapy to work is to treat cancer patients before they have surgery.

For patients receiving the combined therapy, the chance of death or progression of their cancer was reduced by 48% compared to the patients receiving only chemotherapy. "A matter of months, not years", she said.




The new results demonstrate just how effective Keytruda can be for a large swath of lung cancer patients.

The differences would likely have been more pronounced, but many patients in the chemotherapy group were given Keytruda or a similar drug once their disease progressed.

After 10.5 months, 69 percent of patients treated with the immunotherapy and chemotherapy combo were still alive, compared to 49 percent of patients who received chemotherapy with the placebo.

In the study conducted by Gandhi's team, an overwhelming majority of patients experienced side effects, among which nausea, anemia, and fatigue were the most frequent.

"Chemotherapy (alone) doesn't do very much for non-small-cell lung cancer patients". There are about 156,000 Americans who die every year from lung cancer, making it the deadliest cancer in the country. Yet, median survival among the study participants who received both immunotherapy and chemo has not yet been reached. "The differences are big enough now that you know it's going to be a very big number and it's important to get this information to people so they can start using this regimen". These drugs are very, very interesting. "But it works. It's incredible that we're going to be bringing these drugs to the majority of patients with lung cancer in the first-line setting", Herbst added. 'I've never seen such a big paradigm shift as we're seeing with immunotherapy, ' he said.

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