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Immunotherapy in early stage lung cancer shows promise in a clinical trial supported in part by SU2C

Posted on October 10, 2016, 4:00 PM

Checkpoint inhibition is a form of immunotherapy that releases the anti-cancer function of patients’ own immune cells.  It’s transformed the treatment of a number of cancers. Patrick Forde, MBBCh, assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, reported promising data from a study of nivolumab (Opdivo), a checkpoint inhibitor, in early-stage lung cancer at the 2016 Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Oct. 7. The study was supported in part by SU2C through the SU2C-Cancer Research Institute Cancer Immunology Dream Team.

For patients diagnosed with lung cancer, the number one cancer killer in the world, this new study brings hope that checkpoint inhibitors may provide a new, safe, and effective treatment approach early in the disease when a cure is still possible. Although the numbers of patients in this initial clinical study is small, Dr. Forde and his colleagues were greatly encouraged when 80% of patients responded to nivolumab with shrinkage of their tumors.  In about half of those cases the tumors shrank by about 90%.

While the findings need to be reproduced in larger groups of patients, this first report on checkpoint inhibition in early stage lung cancer is an exciting and important step in broadening the use of immunotherapy to benefit more patients.

The clinical trial being conducted by Forde and colleagues is the first trial to test checkpoint inhibition early in the disease, when surgery is still an option and the disease has not spread to other organs. The study’s main goal is to test the safety and feasibility of checkpoint inhibitor treatment in patients with early stage lung cancer, prior to having surgery to remove their tumor.

“Neoadjuvant nivolumab in patients with early stage lung cancer did not delay or interfere with surgical resection, and there were no safety signals,” said Forde, commenting on the study.

The researchers will now expand the study with the aim of confirming their initial, promising findings of lower toxicity and more tumor regression in patients treated with nivolumab compared to standard neoadjuvant therapy during the critical early stages of lung cancer.

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