A new cancer treatment has been shown to be effective in eliminating tumors in patients with end-stage head and neck cancer (all cancers of the mouth, sinuses, nose or throat). The discovery was made during a trial to study the effectiveness of a cocktail of immunotherapy drugs, conducted by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation trust.
One particular patient has made history in cancer research: according to the prognosis, he should have died four years ago already. Barry Ambrose from Bury St Edmunds (England), 77, had enrolled in the clinical trial in question just weeks before learning the incredible news: “your cancer is gone …” said a member of staff in charge. of his treatment during a phone call.
In the trial, the research team tested the combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab (two monoclonal antibodies) to determine whether the latter would at least lead to a reduction in tumor size in patients with breast cancer. terminally ill head and neck. Results: In some cases, the cancer has completely disappeared! Doctors were amazed to find no detectable signs of the disease.
A lifeline with minimal side effects
The combination of these two immunotherapy drugs could prove to be an effective new weapon against several forms of advanced cancer, experts say. Results from other trials of the drug combination have already suggested similar benefits for patients with end-stage kidney, skin and bowel cancer.
In addition to increasing the chances of patients’ long-term survival, immunotherapy treatment has far fewer side effects than “extreme” chemotherapy, which is the standard treatment offered to many patients with advanced cancer. .
The results of the phase 3 trial, in which nearly 1,000 dying patients with head and neck cancer participated, were early and not statistically significant, but they were nonetheless “clinically significant,” a the ICR said, with some patients living months or even years longer and suffering fewer side effects.
” These results are promising “, Professor Kristian Helin, Director General of ICR, told the Guardian. ” Immunotherapies are gentler, smarter treatments that can bring significant benefits to patients “. According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, head and neck cancer is the 5th most common cancer in France, and many will be diagnosed at an advanced stage. There is therefore an urgent need for more effective and gentler treatments for these patients, making it possible to keep them alive longer than current approaches.
When Ambrose was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017, he was told it had already spread to his lungs, and that inpatient hospice care was his only option. But in a turnaround that saved his life, he was offered the opportunity to participate in this new study. ” When I was told about the trial, I didn’t hesitate to join in – what did I have to lose? It turned out to be a lifeline », He declares to Guardian.
” Although I have to travel every two weeks from Suffolk to the hospital for treatment, I had virtually no side effects and was able to continue doing what I love: sailing, biking, and spend time with my family He adds. About eight weeks after starting treatment, scans revealed that the tumor in her throat had been eradicated.
” When the research nurses called to tell me that after two months the tumor in my throat was completely gone, it was an amazing moment “. ” Although there were still traces of the disease in my lungs at that time, the effect was astounding “.
He then underwent chemotherapy, followed by surgery. He currently has no signs of the disease. ” The treatment I received at Royal Marsden has been second to none and I am very fortunate that they have continued to find a treatment that works for me […] Ambrose said.
Exceptional survival rates for such a clinical trial
The results of the trial show that the combination of immunotherapy had a particularly high success rate in a group of patients whose tumors had high levels of an immune marker called PD-L1. The survival rates of patients with elevated PD-L1 levels who received the immunotherapy cocktail were the highest ever reported in a first-line treatment trial of relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancer.
These patients lived an average of three months longer than those who received chemotherapy. The median overall survival of these patients was 17.6 months, the highest average ever reported in this group of patients. The researchers said they hoped future results from the CheckMate 651 trial, funded by Bristol Myers Squibb, would show further benefits of the treatment in patients with advanced head and neck cancers.
” Despite the lack of statistical significance, these results are clinically significant “Said Professor Kevin Harrington, professor of biologic cancer therapies at ICR and clinical oncology consultant at Royal Marsden, who led the CheckMate 651 trial.” We will need to do a longer follow-up to see if we can demonstrate a survival benefit for all patients in the trial. “.