An immunotherapy drug called Tecentriq, when added to chemotherapy, boosted survival rates for people with a certain type of lung cancer by nearly five months. Immunotherapy, or harvesting a person’s own immune system to fight off cancer, has been making great strides when it comes to treating lung cancer.
Tecentriq, when added to chemotherapy consisting of carboplatin/nab-paclitaxel, boosted median survival to 18.6 months, compared to 13.9 months for people who were getting chemotherapy alone. Survival without disease progression was boosted to 7 months with the Tecentriq/chemo combo, compared to 5.5 months with chemo alone.
This is a significant development for treating non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer … but Tecentriq, created by Swiss drugmaker Roche, still trails behind its competitor Merck’s drug – Keytruda. Still, it’s always good news when more options become available for people with dangerous cancers.
“Non-small cell lung cancer patients are heterogeneous, and for physicians and patients, it can be advantageous to have options,” said Roche’s Chief Medical Officer Sandra Horning.
Still, even with the promise of immunotherapy, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to fighting lung cancer and other cancers. “Lung cancer is not one disease, it’s not the same in everybody,” said thoracic oncologist Dr. Leena Ghandi. “Cancer drugs work differently in individuals, and every individual’s cancer is different, by definition.”
Unfortunately, many people still do not respond to immunotherapy. “The ways cancer generally escapes the body’s immune system is by protecting itself by producing certain proteins,” said Dr. Vamsidhar Velcheti, the Director of Thoracic Oncology at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center. “PD-L1 is one of those proteins that actually helps protect the cancer from the body’s immune system. For patients that have high levels of PD-L1, you could potentially use a single-agent immunotherapy with good outcomes. The problem is that these proteins are constantly influx.”
Basically, even when drugs do show improvements in people with lung cancer like Tecentriq just did … there’s still a lot of work to be done.