The experimental study was led by Dr. Suzanne Topalian and presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology as well as published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The study was explained by Carrier Gann of the ABC News Medical Unit and by Jessica Yarber, MD, on television’s Good Morning America on June 2, 2012.
The drug is PD-1, which normally works to stop the body from fighting cancerous tumors. By shutting down the pathway, PD-1 stokes the body’s immune system to fight tumor cells. The drug was given to patients who had tried up to five other treatments, all of which failed. After two years on the drug, tumors shrank in
- 26 of 94 patients with melanoma
- nine of 33 patients with kidney cancer
- and 14 of 76 patients with lung cancer
- -- about 14 percent of patients reported side effects such as skin rashes, diahrrea or breathing problems
The study did not show whether patients lived longer after taking the drug, but experts said early phases of drug trials typically aren't designed to determine improvements in survival. As scientists study the drug in larger numbers of patients for longer periods of time, the drug's success in prolonging life for cancer patients will become clearer.
Lichtenfeld also noted that early trials of drugs are intended to show whether a drug is safe, and don't usually find impressive numbers of patients who respond to the drug. To see those numbers emerging early in drug trials is encouraging, he said.