(HealthDay News) — An immune checkpoint inhibitor, nivolumab, may reduce patients’ risk of death from non-small-cell lung cancer by 27% compared with patients who received docetaxel, according to research scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, held from May 29 to June 2 in Chicago.

Nivolumab – marketed as Opdivo – targets the programmed death-1 (PD-1) receptor. This clinical trial focused on using nivolumab to combat non-squamous, non-small-cell lung cancer, with 582 patients randomly assigned to receive either nivolumab or docetaxel. All had advanced lung cancer that had not responded to chemotherapy.

The researchers found that patients in the nivolumab group had a 19.2% response rate, compared with 12.4% for docetaxel. Further, the response lasted significantly longer – about 17.1 months on average for nivolumab vs. 5.6 months for docetaxel. Overall, patients who received nivolumab had a 27% lower mortality risk compared to those who received docetaxel. The subgroup of patients with high levels of PD-L1 had a 41–60% reduction in mortality risk. The risk reduction was not observed in cases of low or undetectable PD-L1 levels.

Overall median survival was 12.2 months in the nivolumab group, compared to 9.4 months in the docetaxel group, the researchers reported. Also, only one in 10 patients experienced serious side effects with nivolumab, compared to more than half of patients taking docetaxel, lead author Luis Paz-Ares, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at Hospital Universitario 12 de Octubre in Madrid, told HealthDay. “While nivolumab appears to be more potent against this most common lung cancer, it is important to note that it is also far easier on patients compared to the standard second-line treatment, docetaxel,” he said.

The study was funded, in part, by the drug’s maker, Bristol-Myers Squibb.

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