Immunotherapies are quickly increasing survival rates for some of the deadliest cancers in the world.
A new study on immunotherapy Keytruda found that using the treatment, in combination with chemotherapy, dramatically increases the survival rates of patients with lung cancer. The study was published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Using the immunotherapy resulted in “significantly longer overall survival and progression-free survival than chemotherapy alone,” the study found. It’s a sign that checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda, which unleash a patient’s immune system to fight cancer, are on their way to becoming first-line therapies for cancer.
The Phase 3 clinical trial followed more than 600 patients split into two groups: one that was given Keytruda with a standard chemotherapy treatment and a control group that only received the chemotherapy.
The estimated survival rate after 12 months for those that just received chemotherapy was 49.4 percent — in other words, just under half of those patients survived for a year.
But the survival rate for patients that took Keytruda was dramatically higher: 69.2 percent. The result is yet another notch in the belt of immunotherapies that are quickly moving from research labs into clinics, with exciting results for many cancers.
Keytruda — developed by pharmaceutical giant Merck, which also funded the study — turns off cancer cell’s protective functions, letting the immune system recognize and attack the cells. Checkpoint inhibitors are one of two main types of immunotherapy.
The other, CAR T therapy, genetically reprograms a patient’s immune T-cells to find and destroy cancer. Several companies are developing CAR T therapies for blood cancers, including Seattle’s Juno Therapeutics, which announced in January that it will be acquired by Celgene for $9 billion.