Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Top 5 Cancer Immunotherapy Stories of 2015

2015 has been a banner year for cancer immunotherapy. There was so much groundbreaking news, we had a hard time narrowing down the biggest stories. So we decided to ask you, our online community, what you thought were the biggest news stories of 2015. Here’s what you said:

#5- Immunotherapy Hope for Colorectal Cancer Subtype

At this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, Dung T. Le, MD presented on how a tumor’s DNA mutations may affect the way it responds to checkpoint blockade. Le’s presentation supported the theory that tumors with defects in their DNA repair machinery, known as mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, are more responsive to certain immunotherapies. The response rate of patients with MMR-deficient colorectal cancer to the PD-1-blocking antibody Keytruda® (pembrolizumab) was 62% compared to 0% for patients with MMR-proficient colorectal cancer. The study was important, not only for its implications for colorectal cancer, but also because, as Dr. Le said, it was “the first study to use a tumor’s genetics to guide immunotherapy.”

This data led to the opening of a new clinical trial for these patients, which is now recruiting participants.

#4- FDA Approval for Kidney Cancer Immunotherapy

Just last month we saw the first FDA approval of a checkpoint inhibitor for kidney cancer. Opdivo® (nivolumab), which works on the PD-1 checkpoint, was approved to treat metastatic kidney cancer that has progressed on prior treatment. In a phase III trial, Opdivo was shown to increase overall survival, while at the same time causing fewer serious side effects.

Not only in this news exciting for kidney cancer patients, but this approval of a checkpoint inhibitor in a third cancer indication (after melanoma and lung cancer) also “demonstrates how [checkpoint inhibitors] can benefit patients across a wide range of tumors,” says Richard Pazdur, MD, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

#3- Immunotherapy Combinations Show Promise in Melanoma

There was no shortage of immunotherapy news at ASCO this year. Dr. Jedd Wolchok, an associate director of our Scientific Advisory Council, presented game-changing data on melanoma. His study, CheckMate067, revealed that the combination of two checkpoint inhibitors, Yervoy and Opdivo, had a “highly significant statistical impact on progression-free survival” compared to either drug alone—an average of 11.5 months for the combination, vs. 6.9 months for Opdivo and 2.9 months for Yervoy. Dr. Wolchok’s study showed us that combinations of these treatments can truly be greater than the sum of their parts.

#2- Immunotherapy Options for Lung Cancer

Within a week of each other, two anti-PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors (Keytruda and Opdivo) received FDA approval for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, a disease which is responsible for more than one million deaths each year worldwide. (Opdivo received approval for a type of lung cancer, called squamous cell, in March. This gives it approval for all of non-small cell lung cancer.)

To receive Keytruda, patients must have tumors that express a marker called PD-L1. Opdivo does not carry the biomarker requirement. (But data show that patients whose tumors express PD-L1 responded better to Opdivo than those without the biomarker.) Both drugs are approved for patients who have progressed on prior therapy.

Since both of these drugs operate on the same mechanism, PD-1, these two approvals present an interesting question for patients and their clinicians: which drug to choose? We expect lots of discussion in this arena in the coming months.

#1- Jimmy Carter’s Treatment with Immunotherapy

There’s probably no surprise that our community thought this was the biggest story of the year. When a former president tries a new type of treatment for a potentially deadly cancer, people are going to talk.

Over the summer, we learned that the Jimmy Carter had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, and was undergoing treatment that included the checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda. Earlier this month, Carter announced that all of the metastases, including spots on his brain and liver, had disappeared. Carter’s treatment, and his open discussion of his diagnosis, has started a larger, national conversation about immunotherapy. With features in nearly every major media outlet, immunotherapy is on its way to becoming a household word. We hope this conversation continues to grow in 2016.

These were the top stories of 2015, as selected by our social media community. Do you think we missed any?

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