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New Immunotherapy Shows Promise In Stomach Cancer Patients

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An experimental immunotherapy is helping patients with advanced stomach cancer live longer, new research has found.

Immunotherapy, which makes use of the immune system’s antibodies to fight off cancer, has been getting the spotlight as advances in medical science have discovered its effectivity in treating cancers.

The phase 2 clinical trial in this case had 161 patients in the study, and focused on an antibody called IMAB362. The study found that the average survival of people who used the treatment combined with standard chemotherapy was over 13 months, compared to 8.4 months for patients who took chemotherapy alone. The research was funded by drug maker Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG.

Dr. David Bernstein, chief of hepatology at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says,

Metastatic gastric cancer carries a poor prognosis and the treatment effectiveness of current chemotherapeutic agents leave a lot to be desired.

He believes better therapeutic methods are necessary.  While a larger, more thorough study is needed to confirm this initial experimental procedure, Bernstein says, “This study is quite encouraging that this type of therapy may be effective in treating this disease.”

The IMAB362 antibody targets a protein in cancer cells called claudin 18.2. The scientists have found that patients who had the highest levels of this protein in tumors before they received the experimental treatment had a longer median overall survival at over 17 months.

Dr. Salah-Eddin Al-Batran, lead author on the study and director of the Institute of Clinical Cancer Research at Nordwest Hospital in Frankfurt says that since “claudin 18.2 is abundant in gastric tumors, we estimate that half of all patients with advanced gastric cancer may be candidates for this new treatment.”

“This unique target is not present in any healthy tissues except the lining of the stomach, thereby minimizing treatment side effects,” Al-Batran adds. The researchers say a larger phase 3 study is set for early 2017.

IMAB362 is the first antibody known to attack claudin 18.2, which is also found in other forms of cancer such as pancreatic, lung, ovarian and esophageal tumors. The same team plans on conducting a similar phase 2 study on pancreatic cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 26,000 cases of stomach cancer are predicted to be diagnosed this year, and almost 11,000 will die of the disease. Stomach cancer generally affects men more than women, with people over 65 a high risk target.

The study was set to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.

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