The new drugs have transformed the treatment of the deadliest kind of skin cancer, melanoma.
Study presented at the Friday meeting reveal that the immune therapies can work with all types of common cancer, including liver, lung, colon, head and neck.
Doctors also have found a way by which they can predict which patients would respond well to the new treatments.
Immune therapy drugs will help the body’s immune system to identify the cancer and attack it.
The lung cancer study tested Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo or op-DEE-voh, which blocks the protein that prevents the immune system from attacking the cancer cells. This drug worked better than chemotherapy for patients with form of non small cell lung cancer that is diagnosed in more than 120,000 people each year nationwide.
Opdivo, also called nivolumba, is the drug for less common form of lung cancer and was approved in March, and late last year for melanoma. Two other immune therapies are also approved for melanoma, Keytruda and Yervoy.
Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the meeting’s organizer said, “These drugs are among the most promising drugs that have come along” in many years.
Schilsky said, “What we’re seeing is … a broader scope of activity for these drugs.”
For the study, almost 600 patients were randomly assigned to receive infusions of Opdiovo or the chemotherapy drug docetaxel every two weeks.
Median survival was just over 12 months for opdivo patients versus about nine months for chemo patients. That difference might seem unremarkable, but long term survival changes are generally slim for these patients.
Tumors shrank in almost 20 percent of opdivo patients versus about 12 percent of the others.
Dr. Julie Brahmer of Johns Hopkins University and senior author said, “This is a huge step forward for treatment but we have a long way to go to be able to personalize this type of therapy for all lung cancer patients,”
Other researches presented at the meeting on Friday are,
Another study of about 70 patients with advanced caner suggested a potential way to predict who may respond best to immunotherapy. It was found that Merck’s drug Keytruda worked better for patients whose cancers lacked an effective way to repair DNA mutations. That repair defect can be detected ahead of treatment. More studies are needed to confirm the results.
Dr. Lynn Schuchter, a University of Pennsylvania melanoma expert who has been involved in other Keytruda research, said it works in about 40 percent of melanoma patients and that we would rather not give it to patients who are not going to benefit.
In a small, early study, Opdivo shrank tumors in almost 20 percent of patients with advance liver cancer and several survived more than a year.
In a preliminary study with about 130 patients, Keytrudda shrank tumors in 25 percent of head and neck patients whose disease had recurred or spread. The study suggested that the drug might be more effective than Erbitux, a drug that can improve survival for these patients.