Breakthrough lung cancer drug helps clinical trial patient

March 06, 2015

A breakthrough drug for treating the most common type of lung cancer was just approved by the Food and Drug Administration ahead of schedule following two successful clinical trials, including one that involved patients at Providence Cancer Center in Portland.

The trials enrolled patients with advanced squamous non-small cell lung cancer, which is incurable. About 40,000 people will get that diagnosis this year in the United States, where lung cancer is the top cancer killer.

Opdivo targets a protein, PD-1, which certain cancer cells use to mask themselves from the immune system. Hidden from the body's shock troops, the cells proliferate and spread. By attacking PD-1, Opdivo unveils the cancer cells so they're exposed, letting the immune system do its work.

"Our body's defense system is infinitely more complicated and elegant if you will in being able to attack something than a single drug," said Dr. Rachel Sanborn, oncologist and co-director of the thoracic oncology program at Providence Cancer Center. "This is the first time an immunotherapy drug has been approved for lung cancer," Sanborn said. "This is a totally new arena. It's very exciting for that. It's the beginning point, not the end point."

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