Doctors hope new lung cancer treatment may replace chemotherapy

Published: 08 March 2017


In a landmark change, lung cancer patients may soon be able to be treated without the use of chemotherapy, after a promising trial found a drug – already on the PBS for advanced melanoma patients – to be more effective.

Doctors at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital think the cancer drug Keytruda may help enable the body’s own immune system to destroy lung cancer cells, avoiding the need for chemotherapy, which destroys healthy cells in its process.

“Following a study of more than 300 patients, which PAH took part in, we found Keytruda was better than chemotherapy in patients with lung cancer selected using a biomarker,” Professor Ken O’Byrne told the AAP.

“This marks a major change in lung cancer treatment and a new era in precision medicine.” 

While the results are promising, the drug has yet to be endorsed by the UK’s healthcare watchdog for initial treatment of lung cancer patients, who say more data needs to be collected.

“The exact size of the overall survival gain for Keytruda compared to the current standard of care was uncertain because of the immaturity of the data,” a spokeswoman for the National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) said.

Keytruda has so far produced effective results in melanoma patients, reducing or eliminating cancer in nearly 50 percent of advanced-stage patients in clinical trials.

Doctors hope the drug can yield similar results in patients suffering other cancers.

“If we look at the immune therapies for the other malignancies the response rates are less, but it’s still better than some of the forms of chemotherapy that we use,” Princess Alexandria oncology doctor Victoria Atkinson previously told the ABC.

“So it is certainly a change in that we’re thinking about immunotherapy for a wide number of malignancies.”