DENVER, CO—Pembrolizumab (pembro), an immunotherapy drug that unmasks cancer cells allowing the body’s immune system to destroy tumors, appears to be safe in treating lung cancers, according to a study presented at the 16th World Conference on Lung Cancer..

The PembroPlus clinical trial launched in January 2014 and combines more traditional chemotherapy drugs (gemcitabine, docetaxel, nab-paclitaxel, vinorelbine, irinotecan, and/or liposomal doxorubicin) with immunotherapy (pembrolizumab), activating the body’s own immune system to improve upon results that may be achieved with chemotherapy alone.

Findings from the phase Ib/II trial presented were based on the updated results from 12 patients with lung cancer who enrolled in the clinical trial with pembro and irinotecan or gemcitabine with or without vinorelbine or docetaxel.

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“We found that the combination of pembrolizumab and chemotherapies evaluated thus far, in patients with advanced small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), appears to be safe,” said Glen Weiss, MD, MBA, director of Clinical Research and medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Western Regional Medical Center (Western) in Goodyear, Arizona, where he currently supervises more than 30 clinical trials involving hundreds of patients. “We are excited to share these initial trial results with our colleagues around the world.”

The study of pembrolizumab was presented during a session on small cell lung cancer. Weiss also presented two other abstracts at the conference.

One study, in which Weiss was the senior author, highlighted the extended survival of patients with metastatic small cell lung cancer (SCLC) who received statins. The study was based on a preclinical, drug-repositioning study of 876 patients with SCLC. Statins were found to offer a survival benefit in metastatic small cell lung cancer.

Another study emphasized the enhanced antitumor activity of chemotherapy in combination with drugs that inactivate a proteasome function. The phase 1 study found that carfilzomib and irinotecan have a potential synergistic effect in SCLC and other irinotecan-sensitive cancers by allowing normal DNA damage repair and enabling normal cell-cycle death.