New combination therapy shows early promise against certain lung cancers

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have found that using immunotherapy alongside a drug that blocks a common gene mutation in lung cancer could be a promising new combination therapy for certain types of lung tumours.

Their work, published today (20 July) in Science Advances, could help select patients for clinical trials to confirm whether this combination therapy is effective in people.

Around 1.8million people die from lung cancer each year, making it the leading cause of cancer death globally. While some people are effectively treated with immunotherapy, this does not work for most patients.

With only a quarter of people surviving more than five years after diagnosis, there is an urgent need to find new treatments or new combinations of existing drugs.

“In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on whether combining immune checkpoint blockade, a type of immunotherapy, with a KRAS-inhibitor could be effective. This inhibitor works by blocking a mutated version of KRAS, a gene that helps control cell growth and death. As the mutation is present in about one third of lung cancer cases, it is a promising therapeutic target,” explains Julian Downward, author and principal group leader and associate research director at the Crick.

In their study, the researchers studied the effects of combining immune checkpoint blockade with KRAS inhibitors, in mice. In tumours where there were already high numbers of active immune cells, so called ‘immune hot’ tumours, the treatment successfully controlled the cancer. However, in cases where the immune system was not able to mount a strong response, the combination treatment was ineffective.

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