In a break through study, scientists have discovered a new cancer treatment that can wipe out tumors in terminally ill patients. Combining two immunotherapy drugs – nivolumab and ipilimumab led to a reduction in the size of tumors in terminally-ill head and neck patients. In some cases, the cancer vanished altogether. Doctors were stunned to find no detectable sign of disease.
Experts believe the combination of these two drugs could prove an effective new weapon against several forms of advanced cancer. They say results from other trials of the drug combination have previously suggested similar benefits for terminally-ill kidney, skin and bowel cancer patients.
According to researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London and the Royal Marsden NHS foundation trust, the cocktail of immunotherapy medications harnessed patients’ immune systems to kill their own cancer cells and prompted a positive trend in survival. Scientists said the immunotherapy treatment also triggered far fewer side-effects compared with the often grueling nature of extreme chemotherapy, which is the standard treatment offered to many patients with advanced cancer.
The ICR revealed that the results from the phase 3 trial, involving almost 1,000 dying head and neck cancer patients, were early and not statistically significant, but were still clinically meaningful – with some patients living months or years longer and suffering fewer side effects. Professor Kristian Helin, ICR chief executive, told The Guardian that these are promising results. “Immunotherapies are kinder, smarter treatments that can bring significant benefits to patients.”
The results of the trial show that immunotherapy combination has achieved a particularly high success rate in a group of patients whose tumors had high levels of an immune marker called PD-L1. Survival rates in those with high levels of PD-L1 who received the immunotherapy cocktail were the highest ever reported in a firstline therapy trial of relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancer.
Researchers hope future findings will show further benefits of the therapy in patients with advanced head and neck cancers.