The star of annual ASCO meeting? The human immune system

June 6, 2015 | by Nicole Levine

Of the hundreds of important developments in cancer research and care showcased at one of the world’s largest medical meetings, featuring scores of studies about drugs, chemotherapy and radiation, the most exciting tool showcased for fighting cancer was the human immune system.

ASCO 2015 and research The human immune system, in all its often problematic glory, was the star of the recent meeting of the nation's oncologists.

For blood cancers and solid tumors alike, studies at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago showcased medicines adept at unleashing the immune system to attack cancers, including colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. One study presented at the meeting compared standard chemotherapy with a drug called nivolumab, a “check-point inhibitor” that works by disrupting the signaling system used by cancer to avoid detection by the immune system.

“Patients in the trial who took nivolumab had nearly double the survival rate of patients treated with chemotherapy,” said Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope. Reckamp was an author of the study, which was also published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “This provides further evidence that immunotherapy is a treatment option for lung cancer.”

The study included 272 patients with squamous nonsmall cell lung cancer, which accounts for about quarter of all lung cancers. One group received the checkpoint inhibitor drug and the other group received chemotherapy. Those patients who received the immunotherapy regimen lived, on average, 3.2 months longer.

Another field of research that created much buzz was precision medicine – with studies identifying how to tell which patients are most likely to respond to specific therapies. Reckamp also presented a study that linked a specific biomarker on a patient’s tumor with a higher likelihood to respond to a different treatment.

Sumanta Pal, M.D., co-director of the Kidney Cancer Program at City of Hope, contributed to precision approaches in renal cancer with a genomic profile of 443 advanced renal cell carcinoma patients, which served to identify differences in the cancers and lay the foundation for determining which treatments might be most effective.

Other City of Hope research presented at ASCO included:

• A study examining a PARP inhibitor combined with carboplatin or as a single agent followed by post-progression therapy for patients with BRCA-associated metastatic breast cancer. • A phase II trial for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer, examining a drug that targets KRAS mutations, which are present in 90 percent of pancreatic cancers. • A less toxic means of providing radiation for multiple myeloma patients using an image-guided technology to provide total marrow irradiation. • A study on the effect of the "lipogenic phenotype" in sarcomas, which causes cancer cells to behave more like fat cells and use not only glucose but also fatty acids for energy. • A study to fine-tune chemotherapy doses to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. • An assessment of a multigene testing panel to determine breast cancer risk. • A study of intraperitoneal therapy for patients with advanced cancers in the body cavity. • A trial-in-progress indicating that patients with metastatic desmoplastic melanoma respond better to anti-PD1/PDL1 therapy than other melanoma patients.

Throughout the meeting, City of Hope researchers not only shared their own findings, they listened and learned about other researchers' findings, ultimately bringing their new knowledge home to their patients.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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