First Immune Therapy Drug Approved for Lung Cancer

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The Food and Drug Administration has okayed the first immune therapy drug for lung cancer.

The drug, called Opdivo, has shown good results against melanoma. Tests have shown it can work against squamous non-small cell lung cancer — one of several types of the No. 1 cancer killer.

Opdivo, known generically as nivolumab, is a so-called monoclonal antibody. These are lab engineered immune system proteins that help the body attack and kill tumors.

In tests, lung cancer patients who got Opdivo lived an average of three months longer than those who got the standard chemotherapy drug docetaxel. It doesn’t sound like much but some patients lived much longer, and stage 4 lung cancer is a certain death sentence.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with an estimated 224,210 new diagnoses and 159,260 deaths in 2014.


-- Maggie Fox