Bladder Cancer Breakthrough Treatment Developed after 30 Years

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

A much-awaited breakthrough in the treatment for advanced bladder cancer has been made by scientists from the Barts Cancer Institute of Queen Mary University of London.

The breakthrough, which is the first major advancement in the treatment of the dreaded disease over the past 30 years, is detailed in a paper published in the Nature journal.

The research studied MPDL3280A, an antibody known to block the PD-L1 protein that allows cancer cells to escape the detection of the body’s immune system.

In the first phase of a clinical trial held over multiple centers internationally, 68 patients suffering from advanced stages of bladder cancer, despite going through all the other traditional treatments, including chemotherapy, were tested.

The patients received the MPDL3280A antibody, which is a cancer immunotherapy medicine that Roche is developing. The patients were also tested for the presence of PD-L1, with 30 of the 68 patients identified to have tumors positive for the protein.

After a treatment period of six weeks, 43 percent of the patients that tested positive for the PD-L1 tumor found that the tumor shrunk. After a period of 12 weeks, the percentage increased to 52 percent.

In addition, two of the PD-L1 tumor positive patients, equivalent to 7 percent, were cured from the cancer after the treatment, as confirmed by radiological imaging.

Among the patients that tested negative for the PD-L1 tumor, 11 percent responded well to the treatment.

For the patients that responded positively to the treatment, the common reported side effects were appetite loss and fatigue.

With the successful early trials, MPDL3280A was tagged as a breakthrough therapy by the FDA.

Tom Powles, the study’s lead author and a medical oncologist consultant at the Barts Cancer Institute, explained that for advanced bladder cancer, the only choice for treatment was chemotherapy, despite it having poor results and many of the patients being too ill to go through it.

“We now need larger trials to confirm our findings, and as this drug has been given breakthrough designation status by the FDA, we hope to fast track this process so we can begin to give hope to the thousands of people affected by advanced bladder cancer each year,” Powles added.

Patients diagnosed with bladder cancer only have an average of between 12 months to 18 months to live. Many of these patients choose to skip chemotherapy altogether, due to the toxicity of the treatment and the limited chances of survival despite going through the ordeal.