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    Researchers at CPMC leading studies of groundbreaking immunotherapy drug for patients with advanced lung cancer

    November 25, 2015

    Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer among men and women, and will affect approximately 225,000 people in the U.S. this year alone. While other cancers such as breast cancer and melanoma have benefited from earlier advances in targeted therapies, similar approaches have progressed at a slower pace in lung cancer research.

    Specifically, few treatments have the potential to significantly improve outcomes in people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC, the most common type of the disease) who have received no prior treatment. But increasing evidence is pointing to the potential benefits of a groundbreaking immunotherapy drug that has shown remarkable results in shrinking tumors in melanoma, and in lung cancer patients who have received prior chemotherapy.

    Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) is preparing to enroll patients into a study of nivolumab in treatment-naïve, advanced (stage IV) NSCLC patients. CPMC will be one of the few sites in Northern California offering the trial to patients with this potentially lethal illness.

    One of the newest classes of agents to treat melanoma and other types of cancer, checkpoint inhibitors such as nivolumab have emerged as promising therapies in causing tumor regression and are increasingly being studied in cancers of the cervix, kidney, bladder, and colorectum. Nivolumab is an immunosuppressive drug that works by releasing a natural immune system ‘brake’ known as PD-1 that some tumors use to evade an immune system attack. Immunotherapy drugs are expected to bring new hope to the thousands of Americans diagnosed annually with NSCLC, in whom approximately half of cases the cancer has already recurred or metastasized.

    While the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of nivolumab for advanced NSCLC was for people who have received prior chemotherapy, there have been few recent therapies offering similar treatment benefits in patients unable to tolerate the regimens. New studies—including some underway at CPMC—will attempt to change that, providing a new approach to improve progression-free and overall survival in a wider group of advanced NSCLC patients.

    “Our research will help meet an urgent clinical need in the management of aggressive non-small cell lung cancer in patients with few treatment options,” said Alan Kramer, MD (Opens new window), a medical oncologist at CPMC who leads the hospital’s efforts in designing clinical trials of immunotherapies such as nivolumab in NSCLC.

    “The drug shows significant promise in saving the lives of patients with late-stage disease who have few options for therapy,” said Kramer. “At CPMC we are committed to building upon our understanding of tumor biology, prognostic indicators, and molecular targets against cancer—especially in patients whose treatment options are limited.”

    Sutter Health has integrated its oncology research and studies across Northern California affiliate medical centers through the SCRC—a newly formed cancer research consortium involving over 100 oncology research physicians. This gives patients access to a large, diverse range of treatment options and follow-up services to support their care plan, and facilitates their entry into National Cancer Institute (NCI) and industry-sponsored clinical trials.