What is immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy uses our own immune systems to recognise and attack cancer cells.
There has been a major trial of an immunotherapy drug, which has been effective in helping some men with advanced prostate cancer. These men stopped responding to their main treatment options. Researchers found a small minority of men, who were deemed to be ‘super responders’ remained well even after the trial ended, even though they had a poor prognosis before treatment.
It has been highlighted that this same drug has been effective in treating advanced neck and head cancers.
Findings from the Study
The Phase II clinical trial, led by the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden involved 258 men with advanced prostate cancer, who had run out of all other options on the treatment.
The study found that one in 20 men with advanced prostate cancer responded to the drug- pembrolizumab, and they found their tumours shrink or disappear altogether. The Journal of Oncology found that although this was a relatively small number, some men gained years of extra life, and a further 19% saw signs of improvement.
Most patients in this trial, lived on average for 8 months on the drug.
What is Prostate cancer?
It is the most common cancer in men in the UH with around 47,700 diagnosed in the UK each year, and the number of people diagnosed has increased in the last 10 years.
What do experts say?
Professor Johann de Bono, who led the study is a consultant medical oncologist and the Royal Marsden and explained that: ‘We don’t see much activity from the immune system in prostate tumours, so many oncologists thought immunotherapy wouldn’t work for this cancer type. But our study shows that a small proportion of men with end-stage cancer do respond, and crucially that some of these men do very well indeed. We found that men with mutations in DNA repair genes respond especially well to immunotherapy, including two of my own patients who have now been on the drug for more than two years.’
Professor Johann de Bono’s comments suggest he is excited about the trial and the future benefits of immunotherapy.
Michael English, one of the 258 men who took part in the trial was first diagnosed in 2005. He did not respond to any treatment, including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone based therapy. Two years ago, he was given the immunotherapy drug. He said ‘the scans showed the tumour has become undetectable and I am effectively cancer free.’
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