Scientists Make Breakthrough In Advanced Kidney Cancer Treatment

A combination of two drugs could become a new standard treatment for patients with advanced kidney cancer, clinical trial shows.

Human kidney cross section (3D illustration).
Crystal Light / Shutterstock

A combination of two drugs could become a new standard treatment for patients with advanced kidney cancer, clinical trial shows.

Scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have made what can be considered a breakthrough in advanced kidney cancer treatment.

According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in the country. For women, the lifetime risk of developing kidney cancer is one in 83, and for men one in 58. According to the organization’s estimates, more than 70,000 new kidney cancer cases will occur in 2019, and nearly 15,000 people will die from this disease within a year.

Although the death rate for kidney cancers has gone down since the middle of the 1990s, the rate of new kidney cancers has been rising, which is part of the reason why research by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, can be considered significant.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s study is the first study ever to combine avelumab — a pharmaceutical drug commonly used in immunotherapy, and for the treatment of carcinoma, as per Chemocare — with a VEGFR blocker. VEGFR blockers, drugs like sunitinib and axitinib, target the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor, disrupting blood supply to tumors.

For the clinical trial, the researchers recruited 886 patients with previously untreated, advanced kidney cancer. The patients were randomized to receive either sunitinib alone or a combination of drugs.

Human Urinary System Kidneys with Bladder Anatomy. 3D - Illustration
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The patients who received a combination of drugs (avelumab and axitinib) had a significant advantage in progression-free survival compared to patients who received sunitinib only, a drug which has been the standard treatment for metastasized kidney cancer for a number of years.

Furthermore, the patients who received a combination of drugs had a higher response rate — their tumors shrunk faster. Tumors of trial participants who took a combination of drugs shrank by 55.2 percent, and tumors of patients who received sunitinib only shrank by 22.5 percent.

The median progression-free survival (the length of time before the cancer began to worsen) was 7.2 months in patients receiving sunitinib, and 13.8 months in patients receiving a combination of avelumab and axitinib.

Most importantly, researcher Toni K. Choueiri explained in a press release supplied to ScienceDaily, the analysis showed that all subgroups of patients (intermediate risk patients, good risk patients, and poor risk patients) benefited from a combination of avelumab and axitinib.

Nearly all patients experienced the same side effects.

“This is an important option. What we’re doing in advanced kidney cancers is pushing the envelope — these treatments may not be curative, but patients are living longer, and the disease is becoming more chronic,” said Choueiri.

“This is certainly better than sunitinib — hopefully this will lead to Food and Drug Administration approval soon,” the researcher concluded.