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Scientists discover tumour-wiping treatment in cancer patients

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London have discovered a new cancer treatment that can wipe out tumours in terminally ill patients.

They found in a breakthrough trial that a blend of immune-boosting therapies and medications trigger patients’ immune systems to kill their own cancer cells and prompted a positive trend in survival, according to the UK Guardian on Monday.

A 77-year-old patient who was expected to die four years ago had his tumour completely dry up after joining the study. He is now cancer-free and spent last week on a cruise with his wife.

Scientists found the combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab medications led to a reduction in the size of tumours in terminally ill head and neck patients.

In some, their cancer vanished altogether, with doctors stunned to find no detectable sign of the disease.

Combining the two immunotherapy drugs could prove an effective new weapon against several forms of advanced cancer, experts believe. And people suffering the disease in several parts of the world including Nigeria can finally get some respite.

Nigeria has an estimated 302, 076 populace who battle cancer. They struggle to access treatment under less than 10 radiotherapy machines country-wide, where at least 200 are required, according to the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC).

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The country also faces a deficit of 96.6 per cent of clinical oncologists as less than 100 oncologists practise in Nigeria instead of 3,000.

Results from other trials of the drug combination have previously suggested similar benefits for terminally ill kidney, skin and bowel cancer patients.

Apart from boosting the long-term survival chances of patients, scientists said the immunotherapy treatment also triggered far fewer side-effects compared with the often gruelling nature of extreme chemotherapy, which is the standard treatment offered to many patients with advanced cancer.

The results from the phase 3 trial, involving almost 1,000 dying head and neck cancer patients, were early and not statistically significant but were still “clinically meaningful”, the ICR said, with some patients living months or years longer and suffering fewer side effects.

“These are promising results,” Prof Kristian Helin, the ICR chief executive, said. “Immunotherapies are kinder, smarter treatments that can bring significant benefits to patients.”

The results of the trial show the immunotherapy combination enjoyed a particularly high success rate in a group of patients whose tumours had high levels of an immune marker called PD-L1.

Survival rates in those with high levels of PD-L1 who received the immunotherapy cocktail were the highest ever reported in a firstline therapy trial of relapsed or metastatic head and neck cancer.

Some of these patients lived an average of three months longer than those having chemotherapy. The median overall survival for these patients was 17.6 months, the highest average ever reported in this group of patients.

Researchers said they hoped future findings from the CheckMate 651 trial, funded by Bristol Myers Squibb, will show further benefits of the therapy in patients with advanced head and neck cancers.

“Despite the lack of statistical significance, these results are clinically meaningful,” said Prof Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the ICR and consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden, who led the CheckMate 651 trial. “We will need to do a longer follow-up to see whether we can demonstrate a survival benefit across all patients in the trial.”

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