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Experimental immunotherapy slows lung cancer progression

Researchers in France report that an experimental immunotherapy enhances the effect of standard chemotherapy treatments to slow the progression of non-small cell lung cancer.


In clinical trials conducted in France, Poland, Germany and Hungary, 74 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, were treated with a new cancer vaccine called TG4010 in combination with standard platinum-based chemotherapy. A control group of another 74 NSCLC patients received the same chemotherapy only.


The researchers found that, after six months, the progression-free survival rate for patients who received the combined therapies was 43.2 percent, compared to 35.1 percent for those who received chemotherapy only.


Chemotherapy, specifically a combination of carboplatin and cisplatin, is the primary treatment for lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. However, in more than 40 percent of NSCLC cases, the disease has already spread, or metastasized, by the time it’s been diagnosed. Surgery is an option in only about a third of NSCLC patients.


While chemotherapy has helped increase survival times for NSCLC patients, the prognosis remains poor. Researchers have been exploring ways to increase the efficacy of the chemotherapy and improve outcomes, including five immunotherapies for NSCLC currently under development.


TG4010, an immunotherapy that targets tumor cells expressing the MUC1 antigen, is one of several cancer-fighting vaccines currently in clinical trials that hold promise for patients with NSCLC, which is characterized by an overexpression of MUC1.


In addition to NSCLC, the vaccine has been tested in breast, kidney and prostate cancers with encouraging results.


The most findings suggest that the blood levels of certain lymphocytes in patients could serve as a biomarker to help identify cases that are likely to benefit from immunotherapy. Patients with a high percentage of these cells had a higher incidence of serious adverse events if they had the vaccine than if they had chemotherapy alone


"These observations point to the importance of patients' biological status as a predictor for success of therapeutic vaccination, and suggest that analysis of biological parameters should be part of the clinical developments in cancer immunology," the researchers said.


The results of the most recent TG4010 research, led by Elisabeth Quoix of the University of Strasbourg in France, were reported online in The Lancet Oncology. The researchers are currently recruiting patients for the next stage of the clinical trial.