Immunotherapies grab headlines at ASCO

Amid the thousands of new data presentations at this year’s US cancer congress ASCO, immunotherapy treatments are among those causing the greatest excitement.

The annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago is currently underway, as is the most important showcase for new cancer data for the doctors, academic researchers and the pharma industry, for whom cancer has become the most important therapy area.

Immunotherapies fight cancer by activating and amplifying the body’s immune response to the disease, and can be used alone or in combination with other drugs.

The most talked about drugs are those in the twin PD-1 and PD-L1 classes, including Merck’s MK-3475 and Bristol-Myer Squibb’s nivolumab and AstraZeneca’s AZD9291 have all shown promising results across a range of hard to treat cancers.

“The field of immunotherapy has exploded in the last decade, and more and more patients are benefiting,” said press briefing moderator Steven O’Day, MD, ASCO expert and clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine.

One of the studies highlighted by the ASCO organisers was BMS’s Yervoy (ipilimumab). The drug is already approved for advanced melanoma, but a new study shows it can substantially decrease the risk of melanoma recurrence in certain patients with earlier-stage disease. In addition, another small trial reports that a one-time, personalised immunotherapy treatment induces complete and long-lasting remissions in a small number of women with advanced cervical cancer – a disease with little to no effective treatment options.

“Having a potential new way to keep melanoma at bay is a major advance for patients who live under the constant fear of recurrence after surgery. It’s also incredibly exciting that we’re extending the benefits of immunotherapy beyond melanoma, to diseases like cervical cancer where patients urgently need better options.”

Featured studies include:

Adjuvant ipilimumab improves recurrence-free survival in patients with high-risk stage III melanoma: Study marks the first time adjuvant (post-surgery) ipilimumab is shown to be effective in earlier-stage melanoma, though side effects are considerable.

PD-1 targeting immunotherapy MK-3475 has high and long-lasting activity against metastatic melanoma: Large phase I trial finds high survival rates in patients with advanced melanoma, including those previously treated with ipilimumab; one-year survival rate is 69 percent across all patient subgroups.

Combination immunotherapy with ipilimumab and nivolumab achieves long-term survival for patients with advanced melanoma: Updated follow-up data from an expanded phase I study show concurrent treatment with ipilimumab and the anti-PD-1 nivolumab yields strong, long-lasting responses and high survival rates.

HPV-targeted adoptive T cell therapy may provide a new personalised strategy for advanced cervical cancer: Early study of HPV-targeted immunotherapy shows promising activity in metastatic cervical cancer, a hard-to-treat disease with few effective treatment options.


Novartis acquires immunotherapy specialists CoStim


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