If one drug that bolsters the immune system has proven effective against late-stage lung cancer, can adding a second such drug improve results? Exploring that question is the objective of a clinical trial underway at Froedtert Hospital, currently the only Wisconsin site enrolling patients. It focuses on immunotherapy’s role in fighting non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer.

“Immunotherapy doesn’t directly kill the tumor, like chemotherapy,” said hematologist/oncologist and MCW faculty member Jonathan Thompson, MD. “Instead, it works on immune cells to rev up the immune system to kill the tumor.”

All trial participants, whose cancer has been previously treated, receive the IV drug pembrolizumab in combination with capsules of BGB324. “We know that pembrolizumab is a very effective drug, but it only works in about 20 percent of patients,” Dr. Thompson said. “Researchers are trying to find ways to boost the chances of combating cancer by adding another drug to see if they can elicit higher immune responses.”

Dr. Thompson explained that BGB324 blocks a protein that is thought to help lung cancer cells grow and spread. “By blocking that protein, the immune response can be restored to rally against cancer.” He said previous lab studies showed that the combination of BGB324 and pembrolizumab worked better than either drug alone.

“With the advances in immunotherapy drugs, we may be at the beginning of a revolution in the treatment of what used to be a very difficult cancer to treat,” Dr. Thompson said.