Initial study results prove that an experimental drug called 'nemvaleukin alfa' can be used to treat several types of late-stage cancer in some patients when used alone or in combination with another anticancer drug 'pembrolizumab.'
Both drugs are immunotherapies, medications designed to help the body's immune defence system detect and kill cancer cells, much like it would an invading virus. They work by boosting the action of immune cells that both directly attack the cancer and prevent cancer cells from evading immune system surveillance.
New generations and combinations of immunotherapies are needed, researchers say, because existing treatments do not work for all patients, especially those whose cancer has (after standard treatment) returned after remission or spread to other parts of the body.
The latest international Phase I/II study, led by a researcher at NYU Langone Health and its Perlmutter Cancer Center, showed that a series of injections of nemvaleukin alfa stopped tumor growth or resulted in some shrinkage for at least six months in four out of 22 (18 per cent) men and women with advanced kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma). Some tumor shrinkage was also observed in four of 46 (8 per cent) patients with various forms of melanoma (skin cancer). All had cancer that had previously failed to respond to other immunotherapies. Side effects were minimal, although some patients experienced chills and anemia (temporarily low blood counts).
The study findings, to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago on June 4, also showed that nemvaleukin alfa demonstrated anticancer activity when used in combination with injections of another, more widely used immunotherapy, pembrolizumab.
Researchers found that the drug combination led to a sustained and tenfold increase in the production of CD8 T cells and natural killer cells, highly specialized immune cells known to fight cancer. This occurred in 22 of 137 patients (16 per cent) of study participants with all kinds of cancer, over half of whom (59 per cent) experienced a total stall in their cancers' progression. Similar anticancer immune cell activity was observed in four of 14 (28 per cent) women with ovarian cancer whose disease did not respond to initial drug chemotherapy.
"Our early results demonstrate that nemvaleukin alfa is a generally safe, tolerable, and potentially effective therapy for several different cancers," says study senior investigator and oncologist Vamsidhar Velcheti, MD. "If further trial results prove successful, then nemvaleukin alfa, when prescribed on its own or in combination with other anticancer medications, could serve as a valuable option for people with advanced-stage cancer in which other therapies have not worked and for whom there are few remaining treatment options," says Velcheti, an associate professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a member of Perlmutter Cancer Center. (ANI)