Smokers' cancer breakthrough
A drug developed by pharmaceuticals company Roche might be a "game changer" in treating smokers with lung cancer.
Presenting detailed data from an early-stage trial of the drug MPDL3280A in patients with the "non-small cell" form of lung cancer, investigators said they had "great news for lung-cancer patients".
The tumours of 23% of the 53 patients treated with the drug shrank, according to results presented at the European Cancer Con-gress, in Amsterdam.
But the most encouraging numbers were those relating to smokers, among whom the response rate was 26%, compared with a 10% rate for lung-cancer patients who had never smoked, said Professor Jean-Charles Soria, of France's Institut Gustave Roussy, who led the study.
Lung cancer is extremely difficult to treat and, once it has started to spread to other parts of the body, is incurable.
Roche's MPDL3280A is an engineered antibody that targets the protein PD-L1 - used by tumours to trick the immune system's T-cells into inactivity. By blocking PD-L1, the drug allows the T-cells to recognise the cancer. They then proliferate and attack the rogue cells.
Roche is also investigating MPDL3280A's potential for treating other cancers, including melanoma skin cancer and kidney cancer. It has already shown some promise in early trials.
Rival drug-makers, including Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, are also developing immunotherapy drugs known as PD-1 inhibitors, which are designed to mobilise the body's immune system to recognise and fight cancers.