Two new therapies for hard to treat advanced kidney cancer could change treatment of the disease, say experts at the European Cancer Congress.Both drugs increased survival in trials which are also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
One drug takes the brakes off the immune system while the other stops growth signals in the tumour.
Cancer Research UK said the developments will “greatly expand the arsenal” of available drugs.
Kidney cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the UK and survival rates plummet if it is caught late.
Once the tumour has spread to other parts of the body then only one-in-10 people live for five years after diagnosis.
The first trial, called Checkmate 025, used the immunotherapy drug nivolumab.
It is one of a suite of “checkpoint inhibitors” being developed by pharmaceutical companies that stop cancers turning off the immune system.
They have already been proven effective in skin and lung cancers.
The trial on 821 patients showed average survival was increased from 19.6 months with standard therapy, to 25 months with nivolumab.
Dr James Larkin, a consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital, “It’s another big day for immunotherapy for cancer and one of the biggest days for kidney cancer for some time.
“We’ve known for two to three years that these drugs have efficacy in multiple types of cancer, but it’s the randomised control trials that are important.”
The second trial, Meteor, used the targeted therapy cabozantinib on a trial of 658 patients.
It doubled survival from 3.8 months to 7.4 months.
Prof Toni Choueiri, from Harvard Medical School, said: “An early evaluation of overall survival from the ongoing Meteor trial has shown a strong trend indicating that survival may be improved in patients receiving cabozantinib compared to standard therapy.”
Commenting on the findings, Dr Alan Worsley from Cancer Research UK, said: “Advanced kidney cancer has been hard to treat for far too long and it has been particularly difficult to find drugs that work after first-line treatment has failed.
“The drugs tested in these two trials both appear to work better than everolimus – one of the options available if the first treatment fails – and with fewer side-effects.
“Cabozantinib, a targeted therapy, and nivolumab, an immunotherapy, fight cancer in very different ways, so making either available for use in the clinic will greatly expand the arsenal for clinicians to treat kidney cancer patients.”
Prof Peter Naredi, the scientific co-chair of the Congress, said he was “excited over the advances” and that the results “most likely will be practice-changing”.