It is still early, but researchers report that lung cancer patients, particularly smokers and former smokers, are responding positively to a drug that helps kick-start the body's own immune system to attack cancer cells.
Researchers with the Site de Recherche Intégrée sur le Cancer (SIRIC) Socrate project at the Institut Gustave Roussy in France presented their most up-to-date findings during the 2013 European Cancer Congress in Amsterdam on Sunday.
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"Our results so far demonstrate that the compound is capable of producing striking and durable responses in non-small cell lung cancer patients with metastatic disease who have failed to respond to previous chemotheraphy," said Jean-Charles Soria, director of the project, according to Medical News Today
The experimental drug, called MPDL3280A, is made by made by Roche. Soria told the conference that 26 percent of smokers have responded to the treatment with the drug.
This is the first study that may link "smoking history and response to blocking a pathway that is key to allowing cancer cells to escape detection by the immune system," Soria said, according to Medical News Today.
"The fact that smokers seemed to respond better is great news for lung cancer patients, because the majority of them are former or current smokers," he said.
Lung cancer can be difficult to treat successfully can be incurable once is spreads from the lungs into other areas.
The tested drug is an engineered antibody that attempts to block a protein called PD-L1. PD-L1 is a defense mechanism that tumors use to trick the immune system's T-cells into being inactive, doctors told Reuters
With PD-L1 blocked, T-cells recognize the cancer and multiply on their own to attack the affected areas. Reuters wrote that researchers believe because lung tumors in smokers have a higher rate of genetic mutations, their immune systems may be more likely to respond vigorously when PD-L1 is blocked.
Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb are researching a similar class of drugs known as PD-1 inhibitors, which will launch the body's own immune system to battle cancer.
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