Immunotherapy offers hope for cancer patients

Lung cancer and melanoma patients, particularly those in the advanced stages, can now explore a new option in treatment through a breakthrough called immunotherapy which has lesser known side effects than chemo.

In serious cases of cancer, a protein found in the tumor called the Programmed Death-Ligand 1 (PD-L1) deactivates the immune system’s T-cells so they become incapable of recognizing and destroying cancer cells.

With immunotherapy, this interaction is blocked so that T-cells can detect and ward off the cancer cells.

In a symposium on “The Future of Cancer Treatment” held recently at the Manila Diamond Hotel, Dr. Gerardo Cornelio, head of St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City’s Cancer Institute, cited the role of the immunotherapy drug Pembrolizumab in treating advanced or metastatic lung cancer and melanoma in patients who have failed the first-line treatment.

MSD

“Pembrolizumab is given intravenously every three weeks for 30 minutes each session and can be done on an outpatient basis. Compared to chemotherapy, we have observed that this form of immunotherapy has less side effects and can therefore be tolerated by the patients.

According to clinical trials, overall survival rate has been remarkable. Aside from lung cancer and melanoma, we will be testing this drug across a broad spectrum of cancers,” Dr. Cornelio said.

Each intravenous session of Pembrolizumab costs approximately P100,000. The treatment has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Beaver Tamesis, President and Managing Director of the drug’s manufacturer MSD in the Philippines, said : “MSD has been dedicating its resources to developing innovative oncology medicines.

Pembrolizumab propelled our research efforts to understand of the role of the immune system and the PD-L1 pathway in cancer treatment.”

Data shows that lung cancer is the second most common cause of mortality among Filipino men and women.

As for melanoma, a skin cancer whose risk factors include sun exposure, fair complexion and genetics, around 300 Filipinos are affected annually. Though melanoma is not one of the most common cancers in the country, early diagnosis remains a challenge for most patients.

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