FDA approves first chemotherapy and immunotherapy combination for non-small cell lung cancer

The FDA recently granted accelerated approval for pembrolizumab in combination with pemetrexed and carboplatin for the treatment of patients with previously untreated metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (non-squamous).

This is the first approval to combine immunotherapy with chemotherapy in lung cancer.  The trial compared standard chemotherapy to pembrolizumab along with standard chemotherapy in patients that had not previously been treated for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

Pembrolizumab is a medicine that inhibits PD-1 receptors with the purpose of increasing immune system function and destruction of tumor cells. The trial found that patients getting pembrolizumab with chemotherapy had a higher percent of patients with tumor shrinkage than patients getting chemotherapy only. What this trial has not shown yet is that giving both of these therapies together as opposed to sequentially (chemo first and then immunotherapy when chemo stops working) leads to any change in how long patients live. The combination therapy did have a higher risk of side effects compared to chemotherapy alone. This is a decision that each patient will have to make along with his or her oncologist as to which treatment regimen makes the most sense for them.