Opdivo Shows Promise Against Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 13, 2015

Jan. 13, 2015 -- Drug-maker Bristol-Myers Squibb says a trial of nivolumab (Opdivo) has been stopped early because the drug improves how long people with a type of advanced lung cancer live compared to chemotherapy.

This is the first time a survival advantage over chemo has been shown in lung cancer with an immunotherapy-type drug, the company says. Immunotherapy treatments spur the immune system to fight cancer like it does other illnesses.

The trial included 272 people with an advanced lung cancer known as squamous cell non-small cell cancer.

Analysts say nivolumab, which is already approved as a melanoma treatment, could be cleared for use in lung cancer before the end of the year -- the company has requested approval for this in both the United States and Europe.

Another immunotherapy drug is also making progress: pembrolizumab (Keytruda). Merck & Co. has announced it is speeding up its development of the drug for use in lung cancer. It hopes to file for approval by mid-year. Pembrolizumab is already marketed for use in melanoma.

Early results with these drugs in lung cancer have been causing excitement at recent medical meetings, leading one researcher to predict that "immunotherapy is heralding a new era of lung cancer treatment."