“A small subset of non-small cell lung cancer patients appear to respond to nivolumab and have beaten the odds that most patients with this cancer face,” says Julie Brahmer, MD, program leader at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center on the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus. The 5-year survival estimate for this subset of patients is 16%, which is an improvement compared with the typical survival rate of 1% to 4%.1

A summary of follow-up data from a previous study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017.1,2 The study included 129 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) at more than 11 US hospitals. Patients received the immunotherapy drug nivolumab once every 2 weeks for 2 years. The observed side effects at the time of the initial study included fatigue, thyroid problems, rashes, gastrointestinal problems, and lung inflammation.

Three patients succumbed to pneumonitis. However, 16 patients survived 58 months, 12 of whom showed no disease progression and were able to stop treatment. The remaining 4 patients went on to receive chemotherapy or joined other clinical trials.

Continue Reading

“It’s clear that the patients who beat the survival odds are in some ways truly unique biologically, and the goal now is to discover exactly how immunotherapy is keeping their disease in check,” says Brahmer. However, researchers have not been able to identify genes or proteins specific to the 16 patients that could explain their response.

The researchers caution that the study results were not compared to a placebo control, but estimate that 16% of patients with NSCLC who receive nivolumab will survive 5 or more years.


1. Brahmer J, Horn L, Jackman D, et al. Five-year follow-up from the CA209-003 study of nivolumab in previously treated advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): clinical characteristics of long-term survivors. Presented at: American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; April 1-5, 2017; Washington, DC. Abstract CT077.

2. Gettinger SN, Horn L, Gandhi L, et al. Overall survival and long-term safety of nivolumab (anti-programmed death 1 antibody, BMS-936558, ONO-4538) in patients with previously treated advanced non–small-cell lung cancer [published online June 20, 2017]. J Clin Oncol. doi:10.1200/JCO.2014.58.3708