(HealthDay News) — In a small new trial, a form of treatment based on the body’s immune system appears to be helping patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma for whom other treatments have failed. The study was published online December 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with its expected presentation on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, held from December 6–9 in San Francisco.

According to researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, more than one-third of the 23 patients studied had tried – and ultimately failed – at least six lines of treatment. Four-fifths of the patients had also undergone stem cell transplant therapy in hopes of curing their disease, but that also failed. The new phase 1 trial involved nivolumab, a novel PD-1-blocking antibody, hypothesized to inhibit tumor immune evasion in patients with relapsed or refractory Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Following treatment, four of the patients had no detectable tumor left and the tumors in 16 other patients had shrunk to less than half of their original size, the researchers said. Six months after treatment, 86% of patients were alive and continued to show response to the therapy. One year after treatment, most of the patients continued to do well. About 20% of the patients had serious treatment-related side effects, but none of them were life threatening.

“What makes these results especially encouraging is that they were achieved in patients who had exhausted other treatment options,” study co-senior author Margaret Shipp, MD, chief of the division of hematologic neoplasia at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in an institute news release. “We’re also excited by the duration of responses to the drug: The majority of patients who had a response are still doing well more than a year after their treatment.”

The study received funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb, which markets nivolumab.

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