The Phase 3 clinical trial followed more than 600 patients split into two groups: one that was given Keytruda with a standard chemotherapy treatment and a control group that only received the chemotherapy.
Cancer patients should be given immunotherapy as the first line of treatment following the results of "game-changing" trials, charities say.
Two thirds were given immunotherapy drugs combined with chemotherapy while...
Medical experts have already been using immunotherapy to treat different types of cancers.
"Non-small cell lung cancer is actually the leading cause of cancer death in the world even though it's not the most common cancer", said Dr. Leena Gandhi, lead investigator of the study and director of the thoracic medical oncology program at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health.
"It's a big deal", Dr. Roy Herbst, head of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center, told Shots.
The idea of turning the immune system against cancer got a big boost over the last few days, with a trio of studies showing the approach's effectiveness against lung cancer.
But trials over the last five years have repeatedly shown more uses for immune therapy in lung cancer, and the new research confirms that almost all lung cancer patients will now receive immune therapy, said Patrick Forde, the first author on one of the studies and a lung cancer specialist at Johns Hopkins Medical.
Another rival, Genentech, recently announced that its checkpoint inhibitor, Tecentriq, improved survival in a study similar to the one testing Keytruda. Herbst compares it with inflammation around a cut, which marshals the immune system into action, only in this case the wound being targeted is debris from dead cancer cells.
Immuno-chemotherapy combo extends lung cancer victim's survival period, says the latest comprehensive study.
Scientists who werent involved in the study agreed that it was highly significant. Patients with those mutations (called EGFR and ALK) were not included in this study, and instead were referred to treatment with the drugs that target their mutation.
Results of the study are expected to change how 70,000 patients are treated each year in the United States whose lung cancer has already spread by the time it is found, according to AP.
Results were discussed Monday at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Chicago and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. "A matter of months, not years", she said.
The hope is that such early treatment, when the patient is still quite healthy, will train their immune system to keep fighting off the cancer long-term, Forde said. The estimated proportion of patients in the combination therapy group who were alive and whose disease had not gotten worse at a year was about 34 percent, about double the proportion for the chemo-only group.
"What we look at in these trials is overall survival - how long patients live - and we look at a number called the median survival - how long 50% of patients live", said Gomez.
And for those with neither a lot of mutations nor a lot of immune cells, chemotherapy plus Keytruda seems to be the best choice, he said.
For non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer patients, median survival with chemotherapy alone is somewhere around 11 or 12 months, he said.
The median time until cancer worsened was about 7 months on the immunotherapy drugs versus 5.5 months for chemo.