Bristol Myers Squibb has announced positive results from Phase III clinical trials for a combination therapy of two of its oncology drugs.

Opdivo (nivolumab), a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor, and Yervoy (ipilimumab), a CTLA4 drug, are being trialled as a combination therapy for the treatment of first-line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

In the ongoing Phase III CheckMate-227 study, the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy met its co-primary endpoint of causing a significant improvement in progression-free survival in patients with first-line NSCLC and a high tumour mutation burden (TMB).

Better than chemotherapy

The trial has shown that the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy was better than chemotherapy at preventing the progression of lung cancer in patients that had had no prior treatment.

It has also shown that TMB can be used as a biomarker to predict which patients will benefit from the combination therapy.

It had been suggested that tumours with high TMB have more neoantigens, which are vulnerable to immune-oncology agents, and that this is why the combination therapy had such good results in the CheckMate trail.

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The trial is now focusing on its other overall endpoint: overall survival in patients with tumours expressing PD-L1.

The five-year survival rate for patients with stage IA NSCLC is 77–92%; however, for those with stage III NSCLC, it is only 13–36%.

For these patients, the prospect of a new therapy that will prevent disease progression and increase survival rates is extremely welcome.