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Lung Cancer Trial Opened Door for New Research Opportunities

May 24, 2018 09:59PM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

The recently completed trial on the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) at Sanford Health had important implications for non-small cell lung cancer patients in the region. Thanks to Sanford’s involvement, patients with an illness that is often fatal within a year, had access to a promising new treatment long before they might otherwise have even heard about it.

“If you look at when we opened this trial to when this treatment became available, our patients had access to it more than two years before it was available to the general public,” says oncologist and researcher Steven Powell, MD, lead investigator of the KEYNOTE trial at Sanford. As a result of the trial, the combination of chemotherapy and pembrolizumab is now being recommended as the new standard of care for certain kinds of lung cancer patients.

But the implications of the trial may be even bigger and farther-reaching for Sanford itself. Sanford was the only non-university institution chosen for the national study of the chemotherapy/immunotherapy combination, a fact that Powell says has helped put it on the national research “radar” at a new level.

“It took a lot of time and a lot of work,” says Powell. “I have been here for five years now and we couldn’t get trials like this in the past. It was like, ‘Who are you guys?’ It took many discussions and lots of saying ‘Hey, you really need to think about us as a site.’ Our physician team has been motivated to bring better options here and Sanford has put the infrastructure in place.”

Powell estimates that 12 to 15 lung cancer patients were enrolled in the confirmatory Keytruda trial in Fargo and Sioux Falls. The treatment combination worked so well that patients across the region and nationwide can now access it through the accelerated approval pathway.

“The only way people are going to get access to the newest, best treatments is to get access to clinical trials,” says Dr. Powell. “Now we can run any National Cancer Institute trials, we get to pick from pharmaceutical trials, and some of the universities are even contacting us. With new treatments, people are living years instead of months and it is great to be able to offer  cutting-edge trials to our patients.”

Web Extra

Read the results of the latest KEYNOTE trial