Study Shows Promising Results for Patients with Advanced Lung Cancer

By Robert Dillard - Last Updated: February 24, 2020

The findings of a Yale Cancer Center study shows that even a tiny amount of a biomarker known as PD-L1 (programmed death-ligand1) can predict a long-term survival benefit from using pembrolizumab (Keytruda), one of the first checkpoint inhibitors to be developed and used in advanced lung cancer treatment. The findings were published the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“The response that we have seen from pembrolizumab, in a subset of patients years after treatment ended, is remarkable, especially since their chemotherapy had initially failed,” said Roy S. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Medical Oncology at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital and Associate Cancer Center Director for Translational Research at Yale Cancer Center in a press release.

In a phase III KEYNOTE-010 clinical trial, which was conducted in 202 academic medical centers in 24 countries, researchers compared use of pembrolizumab in 690 patients to treatment of docetaxel chemotherapy in 343 patients. The results showed that in 79 of 690 patients who received two years of pembrolizumab, the overall survival rate was about 99% one year after discontinuing treatment. Overall, survival in this group three years after the two-year treatment period ranged from 23% to 35%, depending on how much of the PD-L1 biomarker their cancer expressed, compared with 11% to 13% in patients receiving chemotherapy.

“Before we had pembrolizumab, survival from advanced lung cancer was measured in months, not years,” Herbst said. “It is too soon to say that pembrolizumab is a potential cure for a substantial number of patients whose tumors express PD-L1, and we know that it doesn’t work for all patients, but, the agent remains very, very promising. The majority of patients who completed two years of treatment remain in remission and those who had recurrence could be retreated with pembrolizumab at the time of progression and still achieve disease control.”