An early-stage study shows Opdivo® (nivolumab) treatment can be safely and effectively paired with relatively low and infrequent dosages of Yervoy® (ipilimumab) immunotherapy for patients with previously untreated lung cancer, researchers said on Monday at the 16th World Conference on Lung Cancer in Denver, CO.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. In the United States, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for 75–80% of all lung cancers. Although progress has been made in recent years, the majority of patients with advanced-stage lung cancer still die from their disease. New treatments are sorely needed.

Both Opdivo and Yervoy appear promising in the treatment of many cancers including NSCLC. These drugs are designed to help the immune system recognize and fight cancer. Opdivo belongs to a new class of medicines called PD-1 inhibitors, which block the protein PD-1. PD-1 inhibits certain types of immune responses. Yervoy, a type of drug know as a monoclonal antibody, targets a molecule known as CTLA4. CTLA4 is found on the surface of T cells (a type of immune cell) and is thought to inhibit immune responses. It’s thought that blocking PD-1 or CTLA4 or both may improve the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

To bolster the effectiveness of Opdivo®, researchers have previously evaluated Opdivo® and Yervoy® together, demonstrating they could be effectively combined to treat melanoma, albeit with an increase in side effects.(1)

Researchers on Monday released updated data from a Phase I study, called CheckMate -012, that involved 148 previously untreated patients with squamous and non-squamous lung cancer. It compared results of four available drug regimens that paired Opdivo and Yervoy.(2)

Some 39 percent of patients taking Opdivo plus Yervoy every 12 weeks saw some reduction in tumors, similar to the 31 percent reduction for those taking Yervoy every 6 weeks.

Importantly, 10 percent or fewer of patients in the two arms dropped out of the study because of side effects, little different from those who have taken Opdivo alone in other study arms and half the dropout rate seen among patients that have taken Opdivo with chemotherapy. Clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate the ultimate effectiveness of this promising drug combination in the management of NSCLC.


  1. Larkin J, Chiarion-Sileni V, Gonzalez R, et al.  Combined Nivolumab and Ipilimumab or Monotherapy in Untreated Melanoma. New England Journal of Medicine [early online publication]. May 31, 2015.
  2. 16th World Conference on Lung Cancer. Abstract #786.

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