Story at a glance

  • Researchers are testing out a combination of two drugs as a treatment for an aggressive type of brain cancer called glioblastoma.
  • These drugs target the immune system and allow it to target the tumor.
  • A phase 1 clinical trial shows promising results from two patients.

Glioblastoma is a type of cancer that can form in the brain or spinal cord. The drugs used in the clinical trial are atezolizumab, an immunotherapy drug, and ipatasertib, a new precision drug that “may be able to uncloak tumours to the immune system,” according to a statement from the Institute of Cancer Research, London.

“Brain cancer is able to evade the immune system in complex ways and, until now, immunotherapy has not worked,” said lead researcher Juanita Lopez, a Clinical Researcher at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, according to the statement. “However, by uncloaking the disease using a new drug called ipatasertib, this study suggests that we could make some brain cancers vulnerable to atezolizumab.”

The 10 patients with glioblastoma were recruited to be part of the clinical trial, and researchers report that two patients responded to the treatment, according to the statement.

One patient had no signs of disease 22 months later. Another patient saw that their cancer became stable and seemed to be shrinking.

“The emotional journey I have been on over the last few years has been dramatic and, considering the seriousness of my diagnosis, it’s astonishing that I’m still here,” said one of the trial participants in the statement. “In fact, a few months into the trial it felt like all hope had gone as it appeared my cancer had started growing again. However, surgery revealed the growth was actually inflammation caused by the drugs attacking the tumour – they were working. Ever since, I’ve been in a great position with scans indicating my cancer is stable.”


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Atezolizumab has already received Food & Drug Administration approval for some cancer types. If the remainder of the clinical trials support its use for brain tumors in combination with ipatasertib then this treatment regimen could help patients recover.

“Immunotherapy has had a dramatic effect on the treatment of some cancers, but with others such as brain tumours cancer cells seem to be successful at hiding from the immune system,” said Johann de Bono, a Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at The Institute of Cancer Research, London who was also involved in the study, in the statement. “It’s great to see the benefits the combination has had already in a small number of patients who had run out of other options, and I hope that with further clinical development it can become an important new treatment for some patients.”


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Published on Apr 12, 2021