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2 immunotherapy treatments in the news: Imfinzi and Keytruda update

Two immunotherapy treatments — Imfinzi (durvalumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab) — have made headlines recently in relation to lung cancer treatment. What’s the latest? Here’s an update.

Expanded FDA approval for Imfinzi

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved Imfinzi as a bladder cancer treatment in 2017. Imfinzi is marketed by AstraZeneca.

In February 2018, the FDA approved Imfinzi for some lung cancer cases — specifically for patients with “stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer [NSCLC] who are not able to be treated with surgery to remove their tumor, and whose cancer has not gotten worse after they received chemotherapy along with radiation (chemoradiation),” the American Cancer Society (ACS) explains.

A few more details on Imfinzi, according to the ACS:

  • The goal of treatment with this drug is to keep the cancer from getting worse for as long as possible (researchers call this “progression-free survival”).
  • The new approval for Imfinzi was based on a randomized clinical trial of 713 people, which found that those who received the drug had an average progression-free survival of 16.8 months compared to 5.6 months for those in the trial who did not receive it.
  • Imfinzi is a “checkpoint inhibitor” drug that targets and blocks the PD-L1 protein to help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells (learn more about PD-L1 here, and read about possible Imfinzi side effects here)

The new approval for Imfinzi applies to very specific cases of NSCLC, but Reuters says it represents “a chance to intervene earlier in lung cancer,” since other approved immunotherapy treatments are tackling advanced or metastatic cancer.

Positive research on Keytruda + chemotherapy

Keytruda is another “checkpoint inhibitor” immunotherapy treatment that’s already on the market but making big headlines, thanks to new clinical trial findings. Companies such as Hope From Within who practice immunotherapy should be able to advise patients on these checkpoint inhibitors.

Research published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that Keytruda is useful in combination with standard chemotherapy in the majority of patients diagnosed with an advanced form of lung cancer — specifically those with previously untreated metastatic nonsquamous NSCLC without EGFR or ALK gene mutations.

“Doctors already prescribe Keytruda to patients if a lab test shows that they are likely to respond to this drug,” NPR reports. “But Merck, the company that makes it, wanted to find out how the drug works in patients who aren’t obvious candidates as determined by that blood test… It turns out that Keytruda, in combination with standard chemotherapy, also works in patients even if they have a low score on the lab test, which measures something called the tumor proportion score for PD-L1.”

The phase 2 clinical trial involved 616 patients with advanced lung cancer from medical centers in 16 countries (check out this PatientsLikeMe guide to clinical trials and drug approvals).

“The findings, medical experts say, should change the way doctors treat lung cancer: Patients with this form of the disease should receive immunotherapy as early as possible,” The New York Times reports, along with more details on the research.

Check out PatientsLikeMe member’s treatment evaluations of Keytruda (pembrolizumab) here (become a member for access to more information). And see our previous round-up on lung cancer research and treatments (with many studies still ongoing).

Full disclosure: PatientsLikeMe is currently partnering with AstraZeneca on research projects. We’ve also partnered with Merck in the past. The article above is not sponsored – this topic has made headlines lately and we like to share relevant health news to help keep our communities informed. Questions about our partnerships? At PatientsLikeMe, we’re all about transparency so check out who we’ve worked with here.

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