Breakthrough treatment could 'melt away' cancer

#AACR: Merck spotlights pivotal Keytruda/chemo data, hoping to break down skepticism to its frontline lung cancer duo

#AACR: Merck spotlights pivotal Keytruda/chemo data, hoping to break down skepticism to its frontline lung cancer duo

Treating an aggressive type of lung cancer with a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy significantly improves patients' survival compared with chemotherapy alone, according to a study presented yesterday (April 16) at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR).

A separate study by Johns Hopkins University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre tested the immunotherapy drug, nivolumab, on 21 patients about to have surgery for non-small-cell lung cancer.

BMS shares dropped almost 10% Monday despite another study showing that Opdivo, combined with another Bristol-Myers immunotherapy called Yervoy, slowed lung cancer's progression in patients.

Immunotherapy is a form of treatment that helps the body's immune system to fight back against cancer.

The studies proving immunotherapy as potent treatment for lung cancer could not have come any sooner.

Researchers have found the drug Keytruda, when given along with standard chemotherapy, cut the risk of dying from the disease in half compared with chemo alone.

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The study involved Keytruda, the immunotherapy drug by Merck that was the first cancer medication that received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "I only treat lung cancer and I've been doing that for about 20 years". This is a huge progress that will certainly help lung cancer patients a lot more.

The survival data sent Merck shares up 2.2 percent to $58.47, while shares of Bristol-Myers plunged 8.4 percent to $53.68 despite positive lung cancer data for its immunotherapy combination in a subset of patients with a high degree of tumor mutations.

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.

"We don't know how long their survival is going to be and we're excited about that", said Gandhi.

"This is great that there's new options and improved outcomes" for patients with lung cancer, Hellman said. There are about 156,000 Americans who die every year from lung cancer, making it the deadliest cancer in the country. The estimated survival after a year was 69 % in those taking the immunotherapy drugs compared to 49 % who only had chemotherapy.

Recalling a patient with advanced lung cancer whose tumor disappeared and has not grown back after finishing treatment 24 months ago, Gomez said, "I'm now becoming much more optimistic that if we can really find a way to flawless this treatment and to really figure out who are the patients who do the best and why that we may be able to do something like get rid of lung cancer for at least some patients". "Now, not everybody benefits unfortunately, but some of the people who benefit seem to benefit in a way we've never seen".