We are becoming more familiar with immunotherapies and their promise since the big news nearly two years ago when research outcomes were trumpeted showing the success of pembrolizumab (Keytruda) on advanced melanoma. Subsequently, both Keytruda and nivolumab (Opdivo) were approved for marketing in relation to advanced melanoma in Australia, and then for subsidisation under the PBS.
Since then, immunotherapies have been proven to make a difference in some types of advanced lung cancer. In Australia, Opdivo has been approved for marketing in this area, and Keytruda is expected to receive approval in coming weeks.
What we’re seeing now is:
- For some diseases, it’s rapidly becoming the backbone of how some diseases are treated, including for melanoma, some lung and some renal cancers.
- The use of immunotherapies earlier in the treatment of the disease. Researchers start by testing it on advanced cancer, when patients have no other option.
- Trials in a wider variety of cancers including advanced head and neck, triple negative breast and sarcoma.
- Attention on moving immunotherapy treatment towards the ultimate goal – to use immunotherapies in an adjuvant setting after surgery to prevent the tumour from recurring.
We think of immunotherapies as a silver bullet. For some people, this has been a miracle drug that is keeping them alive and has eradicated their tumours. We’re seeing these incredible results as we move through trials on new tumours. But as we’re becoming more familiar with the treatments in a variety of cancers at a variety of stages and in various combinations, we should keep in mind that for other cancer patients it has made little or no difference, or has held cancer stable and prolonged life for only a few months.