Immunotherapy, through drugs, stimulates the effectiveness of the patients’ own immune system in recognizing and fighting tumor cells and has been proving to be one of the most effective treatment possibilities against cancer, even due to the scarcity of revealed side effects.
Scientists have now discovered that the combination of drugs Nivolumab e Ipilimumab reduced tumors in all patients participating in the study, even leading to the disappearance of cancer cells in some cases analyzed, which astonished the doctors. There was a “positive survival trend”, noted researchers from the Cancer Research Institute (ICR) in London and the Royal Marsden Foundation of the British National Health Service.
A step 3 of the study covered almost a thousand cancer patients with head and neck tumors, in the terminal stage, and the results, although premature and statistically insignificant, were still “clinically important”, said Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies (immunotherapies) at the ICR and clinical consultant on oncology at Royal Marsden, who led a second study, CheckMate 651, from which results are still awaited.
“We will have to continue to follow the test participants to see if we can prove the benefits for their survival”, he acknowledged.
The drug combination was particularly successful against tumors with high levels of the PD-L1 marker. The survival rate in patients with this marker was the highest ever in a therapy study of cancers located in the head and neck, metastasized or relapsed.
On average, patients in the study lived three months longer than those who received chemotherapy, with the group’s median survival rate being 17.6 months, the highest ever recorded for this type of patient.
One of the study participants with the Nivolumab combined with the Ipilimumab, whose life expectancy did not extend beyond the year 2018, shared with the newspaper Guardian the “wonderful” moment when the nurses called him, weeks after he started testing, to let him know that his tumor had “completely disappeared”.
Barry Ambrose was diagnosed in 2017 with throat cancer that had already spread to his lungs., and palliative care was the only relief option. However, he was presented with the possibility of participating in the study on the combination of immunotherapies.
“When they told me about it, I didn’t even hesitate to participate. What did I have to lose?” explained to the British newspaper. “A lifeline has been revealed”.
“Although I have to make two trips a week from Suffolk to the hospital for treatment, I had practically no side effects and managed to keep my normal pace of life doing what I love the most., sailing, cycling and spending time with my family,” he said. Just eight weeks after starting the treatment, CT scans revealed that the tumor in the throat had disappeared.
“When the nurses called me telling me that after two months the tumor in my throat had been eradicated, it was a wonderful moment.”, said Ambrose. “Although at that time the disease still remained in the lungs, the effect was astonishing.”
Ambrose then underwent chemotherapy, followed by surgery. He currently has no trace of cancer.
“The treatment I received at Royal Marsden is unparalleled and I am very lucky that they continued to find cures that worked for me,” the 77-year-old grandfather, who last week took a sailing cruise along the coast of the Kingdom, acknowledged to the Guardian. United with his wife, Sue.
The combination of the two immunotherapy drugs could now prove to be a potent weapon against several advanced forms of cancer, believe researchers.
Other previous tests suggest similar benefits of immunotherapies in terminal cases of kidney, skin and bowel cancer, prolonging the possibility of survival.
In addition to prolonging patients’ lives, immunotherapies have the advantage of causing far fewer side effects compared to chemotherapy. “extreme” traditionally recommended to patients with advanced cancer. “Immunotherapies are milder, and sophisticated treatments can have beneficial results for patients,” explained Professor Kristian Helin, executive director of the ICR, to the Guardian. “These are promising results,” he added, referring to the combination of Nivolumab like Ipilimumab.
This is not the first time Royal Marsden has tested the combination of cancer drugs, with promising results.
The results of the therapy proved promising as early as phase 1 of the study that covered 25 patients, half of whom, 46 percent, had a reduction in tumors.
Even more significant, the investigators reported, was the response of patients with the KRAS gene mutation, one of the most common found in a quarter of all tumors and extremely difficult to treat.
Tumors in nearly two-thirds of these patients (64 percent) shrank after treatment, suggesting that tumor typing may be an important indicator in identifying patients for whom combined treatment would be most beneficial.
After participating in the study, patients lived an average of 23 months before their cancer progressed.