A new cancer drug,  presented at the European Cancer Congress, is being hailed as a possible “game-changer” regarding cancer treatment.

A recent study focusing on neck and head cancer discovered that patients that took the new nivolumab drug lived longer than those patients that were treated only with chemotherapy. Another study examined the results of combining nivolumab with other drugs. The research concluded that advanced kidney cancer patients saw a significant shrinkage of their tumors.

Cancer drug Nivolumab
Nivolumab. Image credit: Medscape.

For the first tests, more than 315 patients suffering from neck and head cancer were analyzed for over a year. Some were treated with the immunotherapy drug nivolumab and others with chemotherapy.

The research found out that 36 percent of patients treated with nivolumab were still alive after a year, compared to only 17 percent of the patients who used chemotherapy. Those who utilized the immunotherapy drug also reported fewer side effects compared with the group that used chemotherapy.

Patients whose tumors had tested positive for human papillomavirus had the biggest benefits. These type of patients are expected to live less than six months after being diagnosed. However, the patients that used the new drug survived nine months longer that those who used chemotherapy, whose average was of four months.

Neck and head cancer comprise the third part of all cancers diagnosed yearly in the United States. This means that every year more than 6,000 people will develop the disease, 17 being men. At the same time, almost 10,000 men and 3,000 women will die from head and neck cancer.

For the second tests, 94 patients who have advanced kidney cancer were treated with both nivolumab and another drug, ipilimumab. Forty percent of the patients reported a “meaningful” reduction in the size of their tumors, and of these patients, 10 percent had no signs of cancer remaining.

According to experts, this is especially significant taking into account that with the standard treatment only 5 percent of patients shows tumor reduction. Kidney cancer is the tenth most common cause of cancer for women and the seventh most common cancer in men. Only in the United States, more than 60,000 are diagnosed every year with this type of cancer, of which almost 15,000 die yearly.

Peter Waite’s story

Waite, aged 64, had suffered from lung and kidney cancer years ago. In early 2015, he was diagnosed with renal cancer and started receiving combined immunotherapy, the nivolumab and ipilimumab drugs.

Cancer drug Nivolumab
Peter Waite. Image credit: BBC.

“I feel a bit of a fraud having terminal cancer because I haven’t been in pain at all. There’s been nothing negative about it for me, and I feel a bit embarrassed really. I’m a very upbeat sort of bloke, and I’ve been very lucky. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to go on the trial,” claimed Waite.

According to doctors, he was going to survive a maximum of five years. Waite refused chemotherapy and has spent the past four months being treated with combined immunotherapy with no side effects, which has permitted him to maintain his quality of life.

Waite still works as a motor technician and recent scans of his lungs and affected kidney show that two of his tumors have stopped growing, while the third one has shrunk. The treatment was finished, and Waite is being monitored every three months with scans.

Recent approbation

Nivolumab was recently approved for treating skin cancer. Back in June, it became one of the fastest medicines ever approved in Great Britain, in combination with ipilimumab. Both drugs work by interrupting the chemical signals that cancer cells utilize to “persuade” the immune system they are normal cells.

The new drug has been called a “game changer” by Kevin Harrington, a professor of the Institute of Cancer Research and consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, who also was the lead author of the study regarding neck and head cancer.

“This trial found that it can substantially extend life among a group of patients who have no existing treatment options, without worsening quality of life. Once it has relapsed or spread, head and neck cancer is extremely difficult to treat. So it’s great news that these results indicate we now have a new treatment that can significantly extend life, and I’m keen to see it enter the clinic as soon as possible,” stated Harrington.

Source: EurekAlert