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Renal Cancer Revolution

Encouraging clinical trial results unveiled this week at the European Congress for Cancer suggest that kidney cancer patients may benefit significantly from two new chemotherapy drugs. This important breakthrough could transform the prognosis for patients with this deadly disease.

Advanced renal cancer is amongst the top ten commonest cancers in the UK and notoriously difficult to treat. In the late stages of disease, the tumour can release factors that subdue the patient’s immune system and further accelerate tumour growth. Scientists have therefore sought to boost the immune system using a range of drugs.

The impact of the immune modulator nivolumab was assessed in the large-scale Checkmate 025 trial, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This ‘checkpoint inhibitor’ prevents the renal tumours from suppressing the patient’s immune system. The trial, encompassing more than 800 patients, showed that nivolumab significantly reduced the risk of death from renal cell cancer as compared to standard therapy.

Dr. James Larkin of the Royal Marsden Hospital said “we’ve known for two to three years that these drugs have efficacy in multiple types of cancer (skin and lung), but it’s the randomised control trials that are important.”

The second trial, Meteor, used the targeted therapy cabozantinib, which stops the release of tumour growth factors, on a trial of 658 patients. This new therapy significantly reduced the rate of disease progression or death, although further follow-up is now needed to assess its impact on overall long-term survival. Given that the drugs fight cancer in very different ways, it is hoped that these findings will greatly expand our arsenal of ontological treatments.


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