Tags: Cancer | immunotherapy | cancer | drug | nivolumab

Immunotherapy Drug Called 'Game Changer' for Cancer

Immunotherapy Drug Called 'Game Changer' for Cancer

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By    |   Friday, 18 November 2016 09:37 AM

Conventional chemotherapy often fails to help many people with advanced head and neck cancers, but a new immunotherapy drug called nivolumab could change the game for patients with no treatment options, new research shows.

An international phase III trial found more than twice as many cancer patients taking nivolumab were alive after one year, compared with patients receiving chemotherapy, Medical News Today reports.

Patients receiving the immunotherapy drug also had fewer side effects than those undergoing conventional chemo.

The findings — presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology 2016 Congress in Copenhagen and published in the New England Journal of Medicine — are the latest to provide evidence that new treatments that boost the body’s immune system to fight cancer are more effective and less toxic than drugs that poison tumors and may also harm healthy tissues.

“Once it has relapsed or spread, head and neck cancer is extremely difficult to treat,” noted lead researcher Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute for Cancer Research in London.

“So it's great news that these results indicate we now have a new treatment that can significantly extend life, and I'm keen to see it enter the clinic as soon as possible. Standard therapies do not extend survival of patients with head and neck cancer that is resistant to [chemo] and has relapsed or spread (metastatic). Patients in this category are expected to live no more than 6 months.”

For the study, researchers from 20 centers around the world tracked 361 patients with relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancer. The patients were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups: 240 received nivolumab, and 121 received one of three different chemotherapies.

After 12 months, 36 percent of patients who received nivolumab were still alive — nearly twice as many (17 percent) who received chemotherapy.

Median survival for nivolumab patients was 7.5 months, compared with 5.1 months for chemotherapy patients.

"Overall survival was significantly longer with nivolumab than with standard therapy, and nivolumab-treated patients had a risk of death that was 30 percent lower than the risk among patients assigned to standard therapy," the researchers noted.

In addition, fewer patients (13 percent) experienced serious side effects from nivolumab, compared with chemotherapy (35 percent).

Nivolumab is one of a new class of antibody drugs called checkpoint inhibitors; they block signals that cancer cells send out to stop immune cells attacking them.

Nivolumab is not approved for wide use in the United States (where it is known under the brand name Opdivo) for the treatment of head and neck cancers, although it is approved for the treatment of other cancers, such as melanoma.

"We hope regulators can work with the manufacturer to avoid delays in getting this drug to patients who have no effective treatment options left to them," said Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR.

When a drug is already approved for another use, federal regulators often fast-track its approval for wide use, because much of the evidence regarding side effects and safety is already available, compared with a completely new drug.

Added Harrington: "Nivolumab could be a real game-changer for patients with advanced head and neck cancer. This trial found that it can greatly extend life among a group of patients who have no existing treatment options, without worsening quality of life."

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A new immunotherapy drug called nivolumab could change the game for cancer patients with no treatment options, new research shows.
immunotherapy, cancer, drug, nivolumab
Friday, 18 November 2016 09:37 AM
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