April 1-5 was the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Researchers (AACR) held in Washington, D.C. During the week-long conference, researchers and physicians from across the globe reported on their latest findings and breakthroughs that could bring novel treatments to breast, colon, lung cancer and mesothelioma patients alike. In one presentation, researchers reported that Opdivo realized a five-year survival rate for some lung cancer patients that is “much higher” than historical data.
In a phase I clinical trial designed to test the safety and efficacy of nivolumab (Opdivo, referred to as MDX-1106 in the study) in patients with lung cancer, melanoma and several other types of cancer, as well as focusing on how the drug is absorbed, distributed and eventually eliminated from the body, the five-year survival rate of 16 percent in some non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients shattered the National Cancer Institute’s SEER rate of 4.9 percent.
“The five-year overall survival rate reported in this study is much higher than what is reported for this population of patients receiving standard-of-care treatment,” said Dr. Julie Renee Brahmer, Interim director, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Statistics show that most patients with advanced disease die within a year of diagnosis, and the five-year survival rate for metastatic NSCLC is about 4 percent.”
Opdivo, developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, works by blocking the PD-L1 protein and activating the immune system, leading it to attack and kill cancer cells. This drug, along with Keytruda, another PD-L1 inhibitor, are two immunotherapy drugs taking the cancer world by storm. Both drugs have also shown to be effective in fighting pleural mesothelioma, a signature cancer of asbestos. The chance for survival and an improved quality of life increase for mesothelioma and lung cancer patients when they receive targeted therapy, such as the PD-L1 blockers.
After following 129 patients in the phase I trial for a minimum of about 58 months, overall survival rates in patients with squamous and non-squamous NSCLC were 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively. According to the results, of the 16 patients who survived for five years or longer, nine were male, and 12 were current smokers when they enrolled in the trial. Twelve patients required no further treatment.
“While this speaks to the durability of the responses, further evaluations would be needed to ascertain if the cancers were completely eliminated by the immune system, because of which no further treatment was needed, or if the therapy invoked an ongoing immune memory,” Dr. Brahmer noted.
Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Although survival is often less than 18 months, continued breakthroughs with immunotherapy for patients with all types of cancer have given mesothelioma patients hope that long-term survival is possible.
“We are performing further studies to learn why these patients did so well for so long and better understand which patients can stop treatment at two years and which of them need to continue treatment beyond two years,” Dr. Brahmer said.
For more information about the trial see ClinicalTrials.gov.