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April 8, 2018 · 294 Reads

New combinational immunotherapy for lung cancer shows great promise

In a groundbreaking development, results from a recent clinical trial to treat lung cancer show that a novel immunotherapy combination is surprisingly effective at controlling the disease’s progression.

Patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer will always progress after chemotherapy, so most patients go on to be treated with immunotherapy, a type of therapy that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. One class of immunotherapeutic drugs is known as “checkpoint” inhibitors, as they target checkpoints in immune system regulation to allow the body’s natural defenses, such as white blood cells, to more effectively target the cancer.

Checkpoint therapies work by cutting the brake cables on immune cells that are inherently able to kill tumor cells. Tumor cells often produce suppressive factors which essentially turn the brakes on tumor-killing immune cells. What’s unique about the new therapy is that in addition to cutting the brake cables on white blood cells, scientists are providing fuel to them so that they can more effectively kill cancer cells. The new therapy is a combination of a checkpoint drug, nivolumab, with a new and powerful immune stimulation drug, ALT-803. Patients who have stopped responding to checkpoint therapy may be helped significantly by adding ALT-803.

75 percent of lung cancer patients, unfortunately, are diagnosed at an incurable stage. Patients who have stopped responding to checkpoint therapies may be helped significantly by adding ALT-803. Preclinical studies have shown that ALT-803 activates the immune system to mobilize lymphocytes against tumor cells and could potentially serve as a key component in combination treatments. Of the 21 patients treated, nine previously either had stable disease or responded to single-agent immunotherapy before becoming resistant to this treatment. Of these nine patients, 100 percent either had stable disease or had a partial response to the treatment used in this study.

This novel combination is a huge step forward in cancer treatment. In contrast to other immunotherapies that require admission to a hospital, this new therapeutic combination can be administered in an outpatient setting.

Reference: ALT-803, an IL-15 superagonist, in combination with nivolumab in patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer: a non-randomised, open-label, phase 1b trial. The Lancet Oncology, 2018.

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