Common Drug Duo Could Treat High-Grade Neuroendocrine Carcinomas

According to a publication from EurekAlert, new research presented at the annual conference of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) suggests that a combination therapy of two regularly-administered immunotherapy drugs could be effective at treating neuroendocrine cancer. Some patients with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, a type of tumor that often forms in the lungs and digestive tract, experienced considerable reductions to the size of their tumors after receiving treatment.

About Neuroendocrine Carcinoma

Neuroendocrine carcinoma is a rare form of cancer diagnosed in about 12,000 Americans each year. The tumors originate in the lining of neurondocrine cells – chemical signaling cells that receive nerve impulses and release hormones in response. Scientists are particularly eager to find in effective treatments for this type of tumor, which, although often quite small and slow-growing, does have fast-growing “high-grade” forms that can be aggressive. Depending where the tumors form, symptoms and outlook can vary broadly.

About the Study

The study was part of a larger “DART” trial. DART is a an experimental “basket” study that studies a consistent, controlled treatment (in this case the same dose of ipilimumab and nivolumab, two of the most commonly administered immunotherapy drugs) against a “basket” of 37 different rare cancers. That way, researchers might comprehensively determine which tumors could be treated most effectively with the same two drugs. It’s kind of like starting with the answer, and working backwards to find the best possible question.

The team behind the neuroendocrine carcinoma portion of the DART study noticed a clear difference in treatment response rates between high-grade (rapidly-growing) and low-grade(slow-growing) forms of the same carcinomas. Some 42% of the 19 participants with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma found their tumors partially or completely shrunken when administered the dual treatment of immunotherapy drugs. Although technically the same cancer, none of the patients with low-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma responded to the treatment similarly.

Researchers believe that differences in the tumors’ structures are partially what dictates the differing responses to treatment. In response to the surprising find, a new arm of the study has been opened recruiting only individuals with high-grade neuroendocrine carcinomas. If the new arm of the study produces results similar to those presented at the AACR conference, the dual drug combo might eventually become the foundation of neuroendocrine carcinoma treatment.

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