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Is Immunotherapy the Next Big Wave in Cancer Treatment?

Immunotherapy Cancer Treatment

In recent years, major breakthrough cancer therapies have entered onto the oncology stage, namely actors in immunotherapy that have shown extraordinary promise. These new agents differ from conventional treatments in that they selectively target aspects of the immune system to optimize the innate response to invading cancer cells.1 Conversely, radiation and chemotherapy wipe out the good cells with the bad, triggering a cascade of unfavorable side effects, including enhanced susceptibility to future cancer growth. Cancer cells, with a mission to survive and thrive, adapt to express proteins that allow them to hide from the normal anti-tumor immune response. The goal of immunotherapy is to interrupt this clever scheme and reactivate the immune system so that it can effectively do its job of detecting and destroying malignancies.2  

To date, a number of immunotherapy agents, namely monoclonal antibodies and “checkpoint inhibitors,” have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with some making headlines in melanoma, breast, lung, and kidney cancer treatment. All of these drugs continue to undergo clinical trial testing to determine effectiveness across other cancer types as well.1  In an international lung cancer trial of Merck & Co Inc.’s Keytruda®, the drug outperformed chemotherapy: A higher percentage of Keytruda patients (70%), compared to that of chemo patients (54%), remained alive after one year of treatment. Keytruda patients also experienced fewer side effects.1


MEMBERSLearn more about pipeline, eligibility, patient experience, and cost projections.


There are a few steps employers can take to ensure proper management of immunotherapy treatment costs:

  • Consider implementing or building a comprehensive cancer management program that provides navigation, second opinion and decision-support services.
  • Review your current policies and give your PBM and Health Plan specific Instruction regarding off-label use of immunotherapy treatments not approved by the FDA.
  • Determine, with your vendors, how best to educate and encourage employee patients to seek possible enrollment in a relevant immunotherapy clinical trial, particularly where there is an unmet clinical need or where off-label prescription coverage is denied by the health plan.


MEMBERSSee more tips on how to navigate the new age of cancer treatment.