New drug for hard-to-treat breast cancer could save thousands of lives

An immunotherapy drug, called ‘pembrolizumab’, has been shown to ‘significantly reduce disease recurrence’ in patients with the most aggressive type of breast cancer, following the results of a clinical trial.

The findings have now been published, following a phase III clinical trial led by Barts Health NHS Trust and Queen Mary University of London.

The trial, named KEYNOTE-522, is said to be the first phase III trial to exhibit the benefit of adding immunotherapy to chemotherapy before patients receive surgery.

In Bart’s Health statement, the trust stated that approximately 15 per cent of all breast cancers – over 8,000 cases per year in the UK – are triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

Professor Peter Schmid, honorary Consultant Medical Oncologist at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and study lead, commented: “We had previously demonstrated that the addition of immunotherapy to preoperative chemotherapy increases the treatment response in patients with triple-negative breast cancer at the time of surgery.

“We now have long-term results demonstrating that the combination therapy significantly reduces recurrences by approximately 37 per cent, including reduction of secondary breast cancer by 39 per cent.

“This means that the cure rate for these cancers is significantly increased. The estimates are that, just in the US where this treatment was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, this new treatment may save as many as 10,000 lives per year.”

The findings from the trial represent significant progress towards the treatment of TNBC, and that the combination of pembrolizumab with preoperative standard chemotherapy can prevent breast cancer recurrence, resulting in higher long-term cure rates, Barts Health noted.