Tecentriq (atezolizumab), marketed by Genentech, is a type of immunotherapy approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of certain cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). It is a monoclonal antibody designed to block a protein that keeps the patient’s own immune system from fighting the cancer.

How Tecentriq works

Our immune system is designed to recognize, seek, and destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.  Rapidly growing cancer cells are distorted versions of normal cells, so our immune system identifies them as “foreign” and sends white blood cells to attack them. Some tumor cells try to defend themselves from such attacks by producing a protein called programmed death-ligand 1 (PDL-1). When T-cells (a type of white blood cell) arrive to fight a tumor cell, PDL-1 binds to a receptor — called PD-1 — found on the surface of T-cells, preventing the assault.

Tecentriq works by binding to PDL-1 on tumor cells. Binding PDL-1 keeps it from interacting with the PD-1 receptors on T-cells, allowing the T-cells to fulfill their mission — to attack and destroy tumor cells.

Tecentriq in clinical trials

Tecentriq was first approved for the treatment of bladder cancer.  The FDA approved Tecentriq for certain NSCLC patients with locally advanced or metastatic cancer in October 2016. The approval was based on results from two international, randomized, and open-label clinical trials, referred to as OAK  (NCT02008227) and  POPLAR ( NCT01903993).  Both trials demonstrated the safety and efficacy of Tecentriq therapy in these patients. People treated with Tecentriq had improved overall survival compared to patients treated with docetaxel, another type of chemotherapy drug used to treat NSCLC. Results of the POPLAR and OAK studies were published in the medical journal The Lancet in April 2016 and January 2017, respectively.

Other information

Tecentriq is approved to treat patients with advanced NSCLC — those who have tumors that continue to grow and spread despite treatment with platinum-containing chemotherapy.  It is not known whether the drug is effective in children. Tecentriq is given as an infusion into the bloodstream over a period of 60 minutes, and repeated every three weeks. Infusions are stopped if the cancer progresses or the patient is unable to tolerate the side effects.

The most serious and potentially life-threatening side effects occur when the patient’s immune system starts to attack healthy cells. Signs of serious side effects include shortness of breath, chest pain, yellowing skin, severe abdominal pain, and severe muscle weakness.  Such symptoms should be reported immediately to a healthcare provider.

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