A cure for lung cancer? Doctors hail incredible breakthrough with new drugs

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 6252By: Stephen Adams

From: dailymail.co.uk

Extraordinary new drugs have cleared tumours that have spread throughout lung cancer patients’ whole bodies, scientists say.

Some are even talking of the new immunotherapy drugs effectively curing patients of the disease, which has a grim survival record.

After lung cancer has spread to other organs – and by the time it’s spotted, it usually has – most patients die within months.

Of all cancers it is by far the biggest killer in Britain, claiming 35,000 lives a year, more than bowel and breast cancer combined.

But now scientists are reporting incredible success treating advanced lung cancer with drugs such as nivolumab.

Next week ‘stellar’ trial results for the antibody drug will be presented at the world’s biggest cancer conference, for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in Chicago.

Doctors will reveal that a quarter of 129 US patients with advanced lung cancer have survived at least two years after starting nivolumab.

Dr Mick Peake of Glenfield Hospital in Leicester said: ‘You would expect patients in that group to survive a few months, if you’re lucky. So to get 24 per cent living two years is extraordinary.’

He saw one man in his 40s had lung cancer which had spread to his liver, brain, bones and adrenal glands, he said.

‘By the time it’s spread that far, you don’t expect patients to last more than a couple of months. But in a recent scan, his doctor could not find any evidence of residual disease.’

Dr Peake said it was also remarkable that so many were responding to this treatment. Of those treated with the optimum dose, 45 per cent were alive after two years.

He said: ‘In any trial you get the odd patient who does very well, but this is an order of magnitude above that.’

Last September, The Mail on Sunday revealed these drugs were being used to treat skin cancer with great success. Now they are having a similar effect on lung cancer, which is 15 times more deadly.

Nivolumab is one of a new class of drug, called anti-PD1s and anti-PDL1s, which help the immune system ‘see’ that tumours are deadly foes.

Explaining how the drugs work Dr Peake said: ‘Tumours develop a ‘cloak’, like a Star Wars force field, around themselves. This stops the immune system attacking them.

‘These drugs take that force field away and allow the body’s immune response to fight the tumour. The beauty is we do not have the adverse side effects of conventional treatment.’

Professor Dean Fennell, who has been treating British patients with a similar drug, MK3475, said: ‘This is an enormous deal. There are patients on treatment who’ve been going an incredibly long time.’

He added it was ‘not inconceivable’ that they could be an ‘effective cure’ for some – allowing patients to live virtually disease-free for years.

Dr Julie Brahmer. of John Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Baltimore, who has helped spearhead US nivolumab trials, said it was ‘a little early’ to call it a cure. But she added: ‘That’s what our hope is.’

She has also witnessed patients whose tumours have shrunk to almost nothing, with some people still well three years after treatment began.

One is still well a year after treatment stopped – suggesting the immune system ‘learns’ from the intravenous therapy.

However, Dr Brahmer, a supporter of US charity Uniting Against Lung Cancer, warned these new drugs were no ‘magic bullet’ for lung cancer.

‘The next step is to make the drugs even better – combining them with standard treatments, other antibodies, and by priming the tumours. We have to figure out how to make them work for everyone.’