Combination of cancer drugs can shrink tumor size by up to a third, research suggests

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Two immunotherapy drugs when used together can shrink cancerous tumours by up to a third in some patients, a new British trial suggests.

Combining two cancer drugs, ipilimumab and nivolumab, shrank cancerous tumors by a third in 58 percent of cases in a 945-patient medical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The immune system has brakes in place to stop it from attacking the body’s own tissue. Cancer uses these brakes to evade detection. The drugs used in the trial, ipilimumab and nivolumab, remove these brakes, helping the immune system deal with the cancer, according to the BBC.

Response to the combined treatment varied among those patients trialled, with many reacting well, and others not seeing any benefit.

Experts warned that combining the two treatments can cause severe side effects such as diarrhea and fatigue, as well as elevated liver enzymes and other symptoms.

According to Bloomberg, the combined treatment would have an annual cost of more than $250,000 at current rates.

It is hoped that the immunotherapies will lead to more effective cancer treatment in the future.

The British-led trial was conducted by researchers from the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, South West Wales Cancer Institute and several other international institutions.

The research was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb, the company that manufactures the drugs being tested.

1. T-cells destroying infected cells.
2. Cancerous cell avoiding detection from t-cells.
3. PD-L1 and PD-1 “secret handshake”
4. Nivolumab disrupting "secret handshake"
5. Ipilimumab and CTLA-4.
6. T-cells destroying cancerous cell.

VOICEOVER (in English):

“The body’s immune system uses T-cells, or immune cells, to target and destroy infected cells.”

“However, cancer cells produce a certain protein which allows them to avoid detection from T-cells.”

“Known as PD-L1, this protein acts as what scientists have called a ‘secret handshake’ between it and its T-cell counterpart, PD-1, to avoid detection.”

“Though if this ‘handshake’ can be disrupted, as the nivolumab drug does, the cancer cell becomes detectable to T-cells.”

“The other drug, ipilimumab, stimulates T-cells to target cancer cells by blocking their ‘off switch’, known as CTLA-4.”

“The combination of both drugs enabled the immune system’s T-cell to target and destroy cancerous cells.”

SOURCES: BBC, Guardian, NHS, Bloomberg, Cancer Research UK, New England Journal of Medicine,