New Drugs Prove More Effective in Treatment of Kidney Cancer, Studies Find

News Brief by Fred Lu

   Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that two drugs, one for lung cancer and one for thyroid cancer respectively, can increase survival in some patients with kidney cancer. Nivolumab, which turns the patient’s immune system against the cancer, and cabozantinib, which inhibits signals needed for cancer growth, were each tested against the standard treatment of advanced kidney disease. In patients who responded to treatment, nivolumab was shown to increase overall survival while cabozantinib was shown to increase progression free survival (time passed without cancer growth).

   An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine praised the breakthroughs and their implications for treating advanced cancers but also noted limitations to the findings, including the fact that only 20-25% of patients in the studies responded to treatment. Additionally, study participants were all patients with advanced kidney cancer who tended to be resistant to one or more of the standard treatments currently available.

   In light of these discoveries, the US Food and Drug Administration has given these two treatments “breakthrough designation” and will speed up their review in an effort to quickly approve these drugs for patients who need them. Because both nivolumab and cabozantinib are both FDA approved for use against other types of cancer, physicians can legally prescribe them for their patients. However, these treatments are extremely expensive, with a price tag of around $150,000 a year, and many insurance companies will not cover non-approved use of medication. Regardless, this represents a significant discovery in cancer research. 

Choueiri et al. (2015). Cabozantinib versus Everolimus in Advanced    Renal-Cell Carcinoma. New England Journal Of Medicine.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1510016

Grady, D. (2015). New Drugs Prove More Effective in Treatment of    Kidney Cancer, Studies Find. New York Times. Retrieved from  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/26/health/2-new-drugs-prove-  more-effective-against-kidney-cancer-studies-find.html?r  ref=health&_r=0

Motzer et al. (2015). Nivolumab versus Everolimus in Advanced  Renal-Cell Carcinoma. New England Journal Of Medicine.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1510665