Patients with advanced melanoma benefit from receiving immunotherapy, according to a news release from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
A randomized, double blind study was conducted with 945 patients who were treated with two drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab, which unleash immune cells to more readily seek out and destroy tumors. The drugs are referred to as immune checkpoint blockade therapies and can be used alone or together.
This new approach, which Memorial Sloan Kettering physician-scientists helped develop, produced stunning results when combined with standard anticancer therapies, according to the release.
“I believe it is finally time to start thinking realistically about long-term remissions, even cures, because we can now combine standard therapies that target the tumor with immunotherapies that boost a patient’s own defenses,” Memorial Sloan Kettering medical oncologist Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, said in an article published in Scientific American magazine.
Better results from combined therapies
Early results of the study showed nivolumab on its own was more effective than ipilimumab alone. Researchers found that administering the two drugs in conjunction produced significantly better outcomes.
Of the 945 patients, the median progression-free survival was 11.5 months with nivolumab plus ipilimumab, as compared with 2.9 months with ipilimumab alone, and 6.9 months with nivolumab alone.
In patients with tumors positive for the PD-1 ligand (PD-L1), the median progression-free survival was 14.0 months in the nivolumab-plus-ipilimumab group and in the nivolumab group, but in patients with PD-L1–negative tumors, progression-free survival was longer with the combination therapy than with nivolumab alone (11.2 months vs. 5.3 months).
Adverse side effects (grade 3 or 4) occurred in 16.3% of patients in the nivolumab group, 55% in the combination group, and 27.3% in the ipilimumab group.
Wolchok presented his findings at a plenary session meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. Results were also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Ipilimumab (YervoyTM), was approved for treating metastatic melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, in 2011, according to the release. Wolchok and others guided the development of this drug from early laboratory studies through late-stage clinical trials that led to the drug’s approval.
“No longer can skeptical clinicians dismiss the approach as likely to be viable for only a few specific kinds of tumors,” Wolchok wrote in a MSKCC website article. “Odds are this approach will soon join chemotherapy and radiation as a standard treatment for many kinds of tumors.”
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