AstraZeneca study is 'milestone' for immunotherapy cancer drugs

Researchers have combined two drugs to attack a tumour 

A new study which combines two cancer drugs is a breakthrough in a form of treatment which uses a patient's immune system to attack tumours. 

The research is part of the development of the field of cancer immunotherapies, which harness the body’s immune system to destroy tumours and are hoped to be the future of combating the disease. 

Early studies by AstraZeneca and its research arm MedImmune involved testing a drug known as durvalumab alongside tremelimumab in lung patients with so-called cancer PD-L1 negative tumours. 

Such tumours have previously been resistant to immunotherapies, also known as immuno-oncology. 

The study published in 'The Lancet Oncology' journal involved 26 patients. The combination of the drugs had a similar effect on PD-L1 positive and negative tumours at 22 and 29 per cent respectively. In contrast, PD-L1 negative patients showed a response rate of 5 per cent when only given durvalumab.

Previously studies into immunotherapies by Merck and and Bristol-Myers Squibb have targeted PD-L1 positive tumours, however between a quarter and a third of cancer patients have this type of growth, the Financial Times reported.

Dr Ed Bradley, Senior Vice President, Oncology, MedImmune, said: "The newly published data are an important milestone in our scientific understanding of the patient population likely to achieve the greatest benefit from the combination of durvalumab and tremelimumab. The latest findings reinforce our belief that the combination strategy we are pursuing is key to the future success of immuno-oncology treatment."

Initial results from the research were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy in Cancer (SITC), in November 2015. The latest publication includes a more detailed analysis of the technique, with a longer follow up period and more mature data set of confirmed responses.

However, the treatment is not yet ready for patient use, as both Durvalumab and tremelimumab are in the early stages of development and the study involved a small sample size and most patients were still unresponsive to the drugs.  

Additional reporting by PA

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