A combination of immunotherapy drug avelumab and targeted agent axitinib has been seen to increases progression-free survival in patients with metastatic kidney cancer, scientists from the Dana-Farber Institute have reported following a phase 3 clinical trial.

The scientists’ latest trial involved 886 patients with previously untreated and advanced clear cell renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. The new combination had a much higher response rate than in those patients who took sunitinib, the current standard treatment for advanced clear cell renal cell carcinoma.

Results showed that the length of time before the cancer worsened was 13.8 months in the group using the drug combination, and only 8.4 in those individuals receiving only sunitinib. In the combination group, 55.2% of patients’ tumours shrank, compared with 25.5% in the sunitinib group.

Almost all patients in the trial experienced side effects, however. The researchers noted that 38.2% of those on avelumab and axitinib experienced immune-related adverse effects, most frequently thyroid disorders.

Additional follow-up tests are now needed to prove the two-drug therapy improves survival overall when compared with the current method.