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A Cure For Cancer? Scientists Discover 'Spectacular' New Class Of Drugs For A 'New Era' Of Treatment

A Cure For Cancer? Scientists Discover 'Spectacular' New Class Of Drugs For A 'New Era' Of Treatment

Experts say spectacular results from a host of major patient trials signal a “new era” of cancer treatment.

The drugs, which harness the body’s immune system to destroy tumours, are proving so effective that in one trial involving British patients, 60 per cent with terminal skin cancer saw their tumours shrink significantly.

Some who had been given just months to live saw their disease disappear completely. The immunotherapy drugs could save the lives of tens of thousands of people in Britain each year.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s lead clinician and head of cancer medicine at the University of Southampton, said: “The evidence emerging from the clinical trials suggests that we are at the beginning of a whole new era for cancer treatments.

“Some of the most common types of cancer seem to be treatable with immunotherapy, taken that overall cancers of the lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck, and melanoma cause about 50,000 deaths a year, or around one third of cancer deaths.”

Professor Johnson said the new treatments were “the next big step forward for cancer treatment”.

He said: “In the 1970s we had chemotherapy, early this century we had molecular targeted treatment, now we have immunotherapy.”

Experts say the immunotherapy drugs could replace highly toxic chemotherapy within five years, sparing patients from devastating side effects including hair loss. The drugs could reduce the most deadly cancers to chronic illnesses.

Specialists from across the world have hailed the “spectacular” results with tumours completely disappearing within weeks for patients with notoriously hard to treat cancers including lung, malignant melanoma skin cancer, kidney, bladder, colon, ovarian and head and neck cancer.


One scan shows the tumour and after treatment the tumour has disappeared


The latest trial results released at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago – the world’s leading cancer congress – show unprecedented average survival rates of around 12 months in some of these cancers.

The British-led two-year trail saw 950 patients with advanced metastatic melanoma given different immunotherapy treatments. A third were given ipilimumab, a drug approved for use on the NHS which costs £100,000 for one round of treatment.

A third were given nivolumab, a new agent set to be approved for use in Europe within weeks, and a third were given both drugs. Patients given both saw their response rate almost triple compared to those given ipilimumab from 19 per cent to almost 60 per cent.

More than one in 10 saw their tumours completely destroyed. Experts involved in the trial believe this will translate into a significant “overall survival benefit”. Dr James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: “We know that if you are treated with ipilimumab on its own and are still alive at three years you are probably going to be alive five years later. We have patients in our clinic who had ipilimumab and are still free of melanoma and are getting on with their lives. “This is advanced cancer which had been considered incurable.”


He said the two drugs together are even more powerful and could “effectively cure” half of patients. Dr Larkin said he was “excited” about the results as “we have got a response rate of over 50 per cent… never been seen before”. He added: “We have seen these drugs working in a wide range of cancers. I think we are at the beginning of a new era of treating cancer.”

Professor Johnson said: “Cancers develop because they manage to hide from the immune system and disguise the danger they pose. Immunotherapy works by making the cancer visible again and alerting the immune system to the danger.”

Speaking about the skin cancer trial results, Professor Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Centre in the US, said: “I think we are seeing a paradigm shift in the way oncology is being treated.

“You can see a response as quickly as a couple of weeks and some patients have amazing survival.

“I’m seeing this work in almost every cancer. Immunotherapy is becoming a standard therapy. I hope it will replace chemotherapy within five years. The potential for longterm survival, an effective cure, is definitely there.”

By Louise Newlands, EXPRESS
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