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Lung cancer treatment hope raised

Published 29/05/2015

Drug company Roche has been carrying out tests on an immunotherapy treatment for lung cancer patients
Drug company Roche has been carrying out tests on an immunotherapy treatment for lung cancer patients

A new type of treatment could double the chances of survival for some patients suffering from the most common type of lung cancer, according to scientists.

Drug company Roche has been carrying out tests on an immunotherapy treatment, with early results suggesting it could be a better option than chemotherapy for those with non-small cell lung cancer.

The research, which is to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, has been welcomed by cancer charities.

Jesme Fox, medical director at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: " There is much optimism that immunotherapy will provide a new treatment paradigm for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

"We welcome new research and the development of new therapies in this area.

"Lung cancer remains a devastating disease, with the vast majority of patients diagnosed when the disease is in the late, non-curative stage.

"It is for this reason that new and innovative therapies are of great need."

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK, representing 14% of all new cancer diagnoses in men and 12% in women.

In Scotland rates of the disease are significantly higher for both sexes than they are in the other nations of the UK.

Of the 43,463 new cases of the disease diagnosed in the UK 2011, 5,096 were in Scotland.

But less than 30% of lung cancer patients will still be alive one year after the disease is detected.

About 85% of sufferers have non-small cell lung cancer and could potentially be helped by the new treatment, which is known as MPDL3280A.

The drug, which had been awarded breakthrough therapy designation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), works by interfering with the PD-L1 protein on tumour cells.

By doing this, it may help T cells in the blood, restoring their ability to detect and attack tumour cells.

Patients from the Royal Free Hospital , the Charing Cross Hospital and Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, all in London, along with some from the Christie Hospital in Manchester, have been involved in a study.

It is said to have been the first trial of its kind to show that inhibiting the PD-L1 protein can boost the immune system, thereby preventing the disease from progressing and potentially improving survival rates.

Roche is also now studying how patients with other forms of lung cancer respond to the drug, with researchers also hopeful it could have potential for helping some cases of bladder cancer.

The drugs firm has also been granted FDA breakthrough therapy designation for another new treatment, alectinib, which could be of benefit to non-small cell lung cancers patients where the disease has spread to the brain, with studies suggesting it can shrink tumours in the central nervous system.

Dr Yvonne Summers, consultant medical oncologist, The Christie NHS Trust & University Hospital South Manchester, said: " Our team at The Christie were pleased to be part of the first of its kind phase II Poplar study assessing the investigational immunotherapy MPDL3280A.

"The results show that activating the body's immune system, through MPDL3280A inhibition of PD-L1 receptors on cancer cells, can improve overall survival for individuals with some types of non-small cell lung cancer, an important step in a disease where patient outcomes are poor."

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