Cancer treatments continue to arise, and more recently we are recognizing the strength of employing our immune systems to battle the disease. By heightening our immune response to cancerous cells, we provide the body’s natural ability to defend itself from the threat with the weapons it needs to defeat such a grave adversary.
In a recent study led by researcher Catherine Diefenbach, MDat NYU School of Medicine and its Perlmutter Cancer Center, the utilization of multiple immunotherapy drugs used together helped to improve the overall health of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer patients.
Hodgkin's lymphoma — formerly known as Hodgkin's disease — is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. It may affect people of any age but is most common in people between 20 and 40 years old and those over 55. In Hodgkin's lymphoma, cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread beyond it.
The study made use of combination drug therapy with ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo), and brentuximab vedotin (ADCETRIS). Ipilimumab is an antibody-drug typically used for melanoma, a specific type of skin cancer. Nivolumab is another antibody-based drug that is used as a targeted therapy towards the programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) blocking antibody. Brentuximab vedotin is used for the treatment of adult patients with previously untreated stage III or IV classical Hodgkin lymphoma in combination with chemotherapy.
With all three drugs working together the researchers saw a safe decrease in tumor size or spread to some degree in 18 patients after at least six months of treatment, with 16 patients showing complete disappearance (remission) of tumors. After nine months of treatment, 15 remained in complete remission with no sign of their cancer's return (relapse).
With immunotherapy drugs, doctors often caution that the immune response would be overwhelming to the patient. With that, it the researchers are happy to report the triple therapy was “generally well tolerated.” The side effects noted were rash, diarrhea, and nausea which typically resides after the treatment is put to a halt.
Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system. The other type, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is far more common. Advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma have helped give people with this disease a chance for a full recovery. The prognosis continues to improve for people with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Our study results are promising and demonstrate the potential for combination immunotherapy to improve dramatically if not change the standard of care in how we treat patients whose Hodgkin lymphoma returns after initial treatment," says Diefenbach, assistant professor at NYU Langone and clinical director of lymphoma program services at Perlmutter.