Fecal Transplants and Immunotherapy Response

Insertion of fecal matter from one person into the gut of another individual has been shown to alter that individual’s immune response by changing the composition of their gut microbiome—the microorganisms found in the intestines. A study published Feb. 5 in Science showed that fecal matter transplants from patients who responded to the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) helped improve responses in some patients for whom Keytruda or Opdivo (nivolumab) initially were not effective. In the study, six of 15 patients with advanced melanoma who had not responded to the immunotherapy drugs saw their cancer stabilize or tumors shrink after receiving the fecal transplants and Keytruda. “Our study is one of the first to demonstrate in patients that altering the composition of the gut microbiome can improve the response to immunotherapy,” said study co-leader Giorgio Trinchieri, chief of the Laboratory of Integrative Cancer Immunology in the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Maryland, in a press release. “The data provide proof of concept that the gut microbiome can be a therapeutic target in cancer.”

FDA Approves a Treatment for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Tepmetko (tepotinib) for adults with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose cancers have MET exon 14 (METex14) skipping alterations. The approval was based on findings from the phase II VISION study, in which the drug was administered orally once a day to 152 patients. The results showed an overall response rate of 43% among patients who had not been treated previously for NSCLC; median duration of response was 10.8 months. Similarly, the drug contributed to a 43% response rate among patients who had been treated before, and a mediation duration of response of 11.1 months. “METex14 skipping occurs in approximately 3% to 4% of NSCLC cases, and patients with this aggressive lung cancer are often elderly and face a poor clinical prognosis,” said Paul K. Paik, VISION primary investigator and clinical director of the Thoracic Oncology Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, in a press release. “There is a pressing need for targeted treatments that have the potential to generate durable anti-tumor activity and improve the lives of patients with this challenging disease.”

Cancer and Other Serious Illnesses Heighten COVID-19 Risks

A study published Feb. 3 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that 56.4% of cancer survivors in the U.S. also have at least one other medical condition that increases their risk of contracting severe COVID-19. Nearly one-quarter (22.9%) of survivors in the study had at least two such conditions. The study looked at data on 6,411 cancer survivors and 77, 748 adults without a cancer history who were contacted as part of the 2016-2018 National Health Interview Survey. “Underlying medical conditions related to severe COVID-19 illness are common among cancer survivors, highlighting the need to protect this vulnerable population against transmission in health care facilities,” wrote the study authors. “Now that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available, cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and their health care providers should be prioritized in vaccine allocation.” This feature article published Jan. 23 in Cancer Today provides more information on COVID-19 vaccines and cancer.​​​