A new clinical study currently enrolling at Houston Methodist Hospital is seeking to compare the effects an experimental immunotherapy drug and an approved chemotherapy drug have on the increase in non-small cell lung cancer, which represents around 85% of all cases of lung cancer.
As explained by the American Cancer Society, immunotherapy is a treatment that uses parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. Immunotherapeutics accomplish this by stimulating the immune system to work harder to attack cancer cells, or by giving the immune system additional components to fight the disease, such as man-made immune system proteins. Unlike chemotherapy, immunotherapy can positively impact the body and contribute to the body’s fight against cancer even when the drug is not being administered.
Eric Bernicker, thoracic medical oncologist with Houston Methodist Cancer Center, is the principal investigator of this global, multi center, open-label, randomized, and controlled study that will evaluate the efficacy and safety of investigational cancer immunotherapy MPDL3280A, comparing it to docetaxel in patients with advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who have already been treated using standard chemotherapies with no positive results.
In order to yield the most objective results for the study, a computer will randomly assign participants to a specific intervention group. As part of the randomization process, both the patient and study doctor will have no choice over the group they are assigned to, in spite of the fact that the study is open-label, which means that both doctor and patient will have knowledge of the treatment they have been assigned. Patients will receive either docetaxel or the experimental immunotherapy every three weeks, and the treatment will continue for either 16 cycles or 12 months.
The study, which is being sponsored by Genentech, will enroll about five participants at Houston Methodist Hospital — the only test center in Houston — which will be part of a larger group of about 850 subjects who will participate nationwide.
For Bernicker, using targeted therapies that leverage a patient’s immune system to fight cancer is an important step towards less toxic, more effective treatments. “From a research standpoint we need to be able to offer new options to our patients using less toxic therapies, with fewer side effects,” he said in a recent press release. “For the first time we are using targeted therapy and relying on the patient’s immune system to help fight the cancer.”