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New Immunotherapy May Be Key to Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment

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A new combination treatment that boosts the body’s immune system is said to be a safe and effective treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma.  This is because this combination treatment is able to destroy most cancer cells in around 64% of people with recurrent Hodgkin lymphoma. These are the findings of a recent early-phase study that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Diego. The said study involved 19 patients and has found out that the combination of the drugs brentuximab vedotin and nivolumab is able to decrease tumor size and limit cancer spread after three months of treatment.

The researchers of this study noted that this combination treatment was well-tolerated and there were only a few side effects such as rash and itchiness, all of which are not severe and are manageable. There are only two patients who experienced lung inflammation and who were withdrawn from treatment.

This multicenter trial is led by a researcher from the Perlmutter Cancer Center of NYU Langone Medical Center and studied data from subjects with treatment failure, that is, their initial chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation, has failed to stop their cancer growth. The researchers in this study say that a similar combination, brentuximab vedotin and ipilimumab have shown safety and efficacy against lymphoma.

Combination immunotherapy for Lymphoma

The researchers note that although this study is a positive one, larger and long term studies are needed to know whether combination immunotherapy can be accepted as a treatment for people who experience relapse in Hodgkin Lymphoma after treatment. This study is important because Hodgkin Lymphoma affects people who are mostly under 40 years of age and one in ten of these patient often experience relapse. This relapse has led to more than 1,300 deaths per year. This is alarming, considering that Hodgkin Lymphoma is highly curable if diagnosed and treated in its early stages.

If further testing becomes successful, the researchers note, combination therapies like in this study can become a potential alternative treatment regimen for people whose Hodgkin Lymphoma has persisted with conventional treatments. This study was actually inspired by the team’s previous research in 2012, which have previously found out those patients who have Hodgkin lymphoma have T cells which are dysfunctional and are less likely to be activated. T cells are considered to be the real workers of the immune system. This has led the research team to test whether drugs that incite the immune system to attack cancer cells, such as “checkpoint inhibitors” like nivolumab and ipilimumab, could  work in synergy with brentuximab vedotin, a drug which is known to be an antibody-drug conjugate.

Brentuximab vedotin acts on CD30, a protein found on the surface of some Hodgkin lymphoma cells, and brings about a dose of chemotherapy to damage these cells. Nivolumab, on the other hand, can turn off PD1 on surface of T cells, which can further stop the immune system from identifying and attacking tumor cells.

The team hopes to apply these concepts to other types of lymphoma other than Hodgkin lymphoma.