There was some good news for patients with triple-negative breast (TNBC) cancer recently. Following extensive review, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the immunotherapy drug Keyturda for treatment for early TNBC in combination with chemotherapy.
Triple-Negative breast cancer accounts for about 10-20% of all breast cancers. TNBC is not fueled by estrogen, progesterone, or the HER2 protein like most other breast cancer types. This means TNBC does not respond to hormone therapy.
Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is classified as an immunotherapy and is used a lot in the medical field to treat other forms of cancers. Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that triggers your own immune system to attack disease. Immunotherapy drugs have been approved to treat many types of cancer. However, it is not used as frequently as traditional treatment options such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, or more typically, a combination of these.
Trial data from over 1,000 patients showed that Keytruda, in combination with chemotherapy before surgery and then used as a monotherapy after surgery, helped prolong “event-free survival”. This combination therapy using immunotherapy is the first of its kind to be approved for patients with early-stage TNBC by the FDA.
Triple-negative breast cancer is so called because, unlike more common forms of breast cancer, its cells do not have receptors for estrogen, progesterone, or the HER2 protein.
Triple-negative cancer makes up only about 10-15% of diagnosed breast cancers, but is one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of the disease. It is also more likely to affect younger women under 50. In most cases, triple-negative tumors quickly become resistant to chemotherapy and spread to other parts of the body.
Over the last few years, immunotherapy — a treatment that boosts’ the body’s defenses against infection and diseases — has been gaining ground as a potential therapy for several different types of cancer, including breast cancer.
A recent phase 3 study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, included over 900 women in 41 countries randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: one group received the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab (a monoclonal antibody drug) together with chemotherapy, the other group was given a placebo with chemotherapy.
“In a combined treatment approach, we are using chemotherapy to tear away the tumour’s ‘immune-protective cloak’ to expose it as well as enabling people’s own immune system to get at it” said lead author of the study, Professor Peter Schmid.
Patients who received the immunotherapy drug along with chemotherapy extended overall survival by 10 months, reducing the risk of death or disease progression by up to 40%.