Immunotherapy or immune therapy is a treatment that uses the body's own immune system to help fight cancer. A new kind of immunotherapy has shown promise against the third most common blood cancer, multiple myeloma. The drug, elotuzumab, is a monoclonal antibody, a type of immune protein, made by Bristol Myers-Squibb, and was granted a breakthrough therapy designation by the US Food and Drug Administration last year.
The phase III clinical trial involved 646 people who had multiple myeloma which recurred after initial treatment with the standard therapy, lenalidomide and dexamethasone. Study participants were randomly assigned to receive either the standard therapy, or the standard therapy plus elotuzumab. After a follow-up period of about two years, patients who took the additional drug saw a 30% lower risk of dying or having their cancer return, compared to the other group. Study participants in the elotuzumab group also lived an average of 19.4 months without their disease getting worse, compared to 14.5 months on the standard arm, a difference that researchers described as 'significant'.
Sagar Lonial, chief medical officer of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, said, "The longer remission and higher overall response rate in the elotuzumab group came without a big increase in adverse effects and no reduction in quality of life. The drug works by targeting both the tumor cells and enhancing the activation of natural killer cells in the immune system. In many ways it is a bit of a double whammy, if you will, in terms of the tumor itself."