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New cancer drug could be ‘game changer’

A new drug for treating cancer is being described as a potential ‘game changer’ after showing promising results, which were presented at the European Cancer Congress.

A study focused on cancer of the head and neck found that patients given the drug nivolumab had longer survival times than those whose cancer was treated with more traditional chemotherapy. Another study on kidney cancer patients saw tumours shrinking when the new immunotherapy drug was used in combination with other medication.

The trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved more than 350 patients. After a year, 36% of patients treated with the new immunotherapy drug were still alive, compared to 17% who were treated with chemotherapy. The patients on nivolumab also reported fewer side effects.

Patients with HPV (human papillomavirus) tumours survived for 9.1 months on average with the nivolumab drug, compared to an average 4.4-month survival rate for those on chemotherapy. Tumour patients normally have an expected survival rate of fewer than six months.

Speaking of nivolumab, Professor Kevin Harrington of the Institute of Cancer Research said, “This trial found that it can greatly extend life among a group of patients who have no existing treatment options, without worsening quality of life.” Colleague, Professor Paul Workman added, “We hope regulators can work with the manufacturer to avoid delays in getting this drug to patients who have no effective treatment options left to them.”

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