Pembrolizumab with chemotherapy improves lung cancer survival, clinical trial finds

Clinical Trials & Research
lung cancer

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A group of researchers in the US modified the existing chemotherapy with humanized antibodies to improve lung cancer survival rates.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in Canada. According to The Canadian Cancer Society, about 28,600 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017. On average, 58 Canadians died from lung cancer every day. Lung cancer happens when cells in the lung become abnormal and begin to grow out of control. People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer may include chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood.

The most common type of lung cancer

Non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer, accounts for about 85% of all lung cancers. This type of cancer usually starts in glandular cells on the outer part of the lung. It occurs mainly in current or former smokers. The treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer can vary, but the treatments are mostly based on the stage of the disease. Currently, platinum-based chemotherapy remains the standard first-line treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer patients. However, the efficacy varies markedly across individuals.

In a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers in the US evaluated the efficacy and safety of administrating a humanized antibody, pembrolizumab, during chemotherapy in treating lung cancers.

The researchers randomly divided 616 patients into two groups, either receiving pembrolizumab medications or matching placebo. The patients received medications every three weeks for four cycles. They continued treatment until radiographic progression, unacceptable toxic effects, investigator decision, or patient withdrawal of consent. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew what medication each participant received. The participants were mainly from Europe and North America, and they were mostly current or former smokers.

Patients receiving pembrolizumab had better survival rates than chemotherapy alone

This study is the first phase-3 trial to examine pembrolizumab in combination with chemotherapy in treating non-small-cell lung cancer. The researchers found that the patients receiving pembrolizumab medications have a better survival rate than chemotherapy alone at 12 months.

This exciting study supports the benefit of administrating pembrolizumab into current chemotherapy for treating non-small-cell lung cancers. But there is still a long road ahead for researchers to bring these new medications to the clinical practice in an effective way.

Written by Man-tik Choy, PhD

Reference: Gandhi L. et al. Pembrolizumab plus Chemotherapy in Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2018;378:2078-2092 DOI 10.1056/NEJMoa1801005.

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