Immunotherapy drug significantly improves survival in patients with advanced bladder cancer

A drug called ‘avelumab’ has been shown to significantly improve survival in patients with the most common type of bladder cancer, according to Barts Health NHS Trust.

The findings come as a result of a phase III clinical trial led by Professor Tom Powles at Barts Cancer and Queen Mary University of London.

This is the first time an immune therapy has resulted in a survival advantage in this setting in bladder cancer, and will potentially benefit thousands of patients each year.

The plenary session at the American Society of Clinical Oncology will be the venue for where the results from the trial will be presented, and is the world’s largest annual cancer meeting.

Avelumab led to a 31% reduction in risk of death from bladder cancer with an extended median survival in advanced bladder cancer by more than 7-months.

Bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer worldwide with 10,000 cases each year being diagnosed in the UK.

The trial was focused on those patients with cancer that had spread beyond the bladder – advanced stage 4, which is difficult to treat.

Chemotherapy being the standard of treatment for these advanced cancers, once treatment ends, patients are checked regularly as the cancer returns quickly.

This makes the cancer difficult to treat with poor outcomes.

The phase III global trial, named JAVELIN Bladder 100 and funded by Pfizer and Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany, evaluated the efficacy of the immunotherapy drug ‘avelumab’ in patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma which they received after the initial chemotherapy.

Treatment with avelumab resulted in a 31% reduction in risk of death and median overall survival of 21.4 months compared with 14.3 months in patients who did not receive the drug.

Side effects were in line with expectations with immune therapy and 11% of patients stopped avelumab due to treatment problems.

Study lead Tom Powles, Professor of Genitourinary Oncology at Queen Mary University of London and Director of Barts Cancer Centre, part of Barts Health NHS Trust, said:

“This is the first time that an immune therapy clinical trial has shown a survival benefit for first-line therapy in metastatic bladder cancer.

“We saw a meaningful reduction in the risk of death and a significant overall survival benefit with avelumab, which underscores the potential for this immunotherapy to be practice-changing for patients.

“This highlights the potential benefits of a maintenance approach with avelumab in patients to prolong their lives following chemotherapy.”