At Last, Success Seen in Fighting Cancer with the Immune System

“Fundamental research — much of it done in Boston — has led to a shift in the scientific strategy for fighting some cancers, toward using drugs to activate a patient’s own immune system. An approach that was on the fringes of cancer therapy is suddenly the hottest trend in cancer drug development. On Monday, for example, Boston researchers presented data showing that nearly half of patients with advanced melanoma lived for two years after getting an experimental immune therapy called nivolumab, though multiple other therapies hadn’t worked for them. And drug companies have announced several deals recently to acquire companies developing immunotherapies. The frenzy of activity is an abrupt change for a field that had made big promises but failed to deliver for years.”


Bristol Plans Big Lung Cancer Study, Pairing Immunotherapies

“Bristol-Myers Squibb Co on Tuesday said it plans this year to begin a late-stage trial testing whether a combination of two of its high-profile immunotherapies can effectively treat lung cancer, easing concerns about the company’s intentions.

“Company executives spooked investors in January by saying they were not yet planning a late-stage trial that would combine its experimental medicine, nivolumab, and an approved melanoma treatment called Yervoy as a treatment for lung cancer.

“But spirits lifted on Tuesday when Brian Daniels, senior vice president of global development for Bristol-Myers, told investors at the Cowen and Co healthcare conference in Boston that the Phase III trial was indeed on track to begin by the end of 2014.”

Editor’s Note: This article has a business spin, but may be of interest to lung cancer patients curious about clinical trials. To learn more about clinical trials and how they can sometimes be good treatment options, visit our Lung Cancer Basics.


Experimental Drug Helps Body Fight Advanced Melanoma

“An experimental drug that harnesses the power of the body’s immune system to fight cancer has helped some patients with advanced melanoma keep their disease in check for several years, a new study indicates.

“Researchers think the drug, which is called nivolumab, may help reset the immune system so that as a tumor adds new cells, the immune system is able to clear them away.”

Editor’s Note: The Medical Xpress article contains a misleading statement about Yervoy (ipilimumab). The article says, “up to 49 percent of patients were still alive after one year and up to 33 percent of patients were still alive two years after taking [Yervoy].” In fact, only about 10-20% of all patients who take Yervoy experience tumor shrinkage, and 49% of those are still alive after 1 year. The response rates to nivolumab are more promising.


Melanoma: A 2013 ‘Progress Report’


The past year saw some remarkable advances in melanoma clinical research and treatment. This feature explores the most notable melanoma news of 2013: Continue reading…


Immune System-Boosting Treatments Show Long-Sought Successes for Lung Cancer Patients


In the past 2 years, cancer treatments known as immune therapies have become all the rage. However, they have actually been explored for decades, particularly in melanoma, and have produced some notable successes. Now, immune therapies are showing more and more promise for lung cancer. Continue reading…


New Immunotherapy Is Promising in Early Trial

Blocking a protein that protects tumor cells may shrink melanomas, according to results from an ongoing trial that were presented at the 10th International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Called PD-L1, the protein shields tumor cells from the immune system and it can be blocked by a drug called MPDL3280A. The phase I trial included 45 people with melanoma who were treated with the PD-L1 blocker, and tumors shrank in one-third of them. This PD-L1 blocker is also being tested in a phase I trial in combination with the BRAF inhibitor drug vemurafenib, as well as in several phase II trials against renal cell carcinoma and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In addition, two drugs similar to this PD-L1 blocker (nivolumab and MK-3475) are being tested in phase III trials against melanoma.


PD-1 Blocker Extends Life in People with Melanoma in Early Trial

An experimental immunotherapy may keep people with melanoma alive for up to 1 year, according to findings presented at the 2013 International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The drug (MK-3475) blocks a protein, called PD-1, that lets cancer cells evade the immune system. Researchers treated 135 people with MK-3475 and found that tumors shrank in 40% and disappeared in 9%. Altogether, this drug is being tested in more than 3,000 people with melanoma or breast, bladder, colorectal, or lung cancer. In addition, another experimental PD-1 blocker called nivolumab is being tested alone and in combination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Yervoy (ipilimumab) against melanoma and blood, breast, gastric, kidney, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers.


Early Results for New Lung Cancer Immunotherapies Inspire Optimism

Three new immunotherapy drugs for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – nivolumab, lambrolizumab (MK-3475), and MPDL-3280A – have produced encouraging early results. All three interfere with PD-1 and PD-L1, molecules that interact to shield tumors from being attacked by the body’s immune system. In phase I trials, more than 20% of participants experienced tumor shrinkage in response to each of the three drugs. For these patients, effects tended to be rapid and long-lasting. Most continue to respond favorably to treatment at this time, having been in the trials for up to 7 months (MPDL-3280A), an average of 9 months (lambrolizumab), or an average of 1.5 years and ranging up to 2.5 years (nivolumab). Overall toxicity was acceptable, though some cases of severe side effects were seen, including two deaths with nivolumab.


Patient’s Perspective: Erin Youngerberg’s Take on Melanoma


Erin Youngerberg was diagnosed with melanoma in October, 2010, at age 32 years. Well-traveled and an avid photographer, she grew up in Minnesota, went to college and worked in Milwaukee, then made her way east, living in Ohio and North Carolina before ending up in Jersey City, just outside of New York City. After her diagnosis, she started a blog to keep folks back home updated. Called ‘Melanoma and the City,’ it tells the whole story: from appointments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City to various city adventures; from treatment side effects to recipes for quinoa and tacos. Erin has also found herself dedicated to spreading the word about melanoma awareness. We asked her to take us through her melanoma story. Continue reading…