Major Advancement in the Treatment of Esophageal and Gastroesophageal Junction Cancers: Immunotherapy Drug Trial Shows Great Promise in Disease-Free Survival

DALLAS, Texas (September 22, 2020) – Baylor Scott & White Health today announced a major research advancement in the treatment of esophageal (E) and gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancers by utilizing the PD-1 inhibitor, Nivolumab, as a novel, adjuvant treatment for operable stage II or stage III cancers following chemotherapy, radiation and surgical resection.

Ronan Kelly, MD, MBA, the health system's Dallas-Fort Worth chief of oncology and director of oncology at Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and a Texas Oncology physician, presented the breakthrough findings of the CheckMate-577 Phase 3 clinical trial, a trial sponsored by Bristol Myers Squibb Co., at the ESMO Virtual Congress 2020, Europe's largest oncology conference and one of the two premier cancer meetings in the world.  

"The war on cancer is continuing while we fight the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time ever, we now have a potential therapeutic option in the post-operative setting to improve disease-free survival for patients," said Dr. Kelly, who served as principal investigator for the last five years. The study included participation in hospitals across 27 countries and five continents, including Baylor Scott & White.  "Medical oncologists had limited to no treatment options in the past, but this breakthrough therapy may become a new standard of care for esophageal and gastroesophageal cancers, which are notoriously difficult to treat and have seen limited advances over the last few decades."

Despite years of research, this is the first time an immunotherapy drug has been shown to prevent disease recurrence among patients with early-stage E/GEJ cancers. The drug — Nivolumab (Opdivo), which has traditionally been used to treat adjuvant and metastatic melanomas, and other types of advanced cancers such as lung cancers — targets the PD-1 pathway.

"Approximately 50% of patients with esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer who undergo neoadjuvant chemoradiation therapy followed by tumor resection will have disease recurrence within four years," said Dr. Kelly. "While much progress has been made in the metastatic space, this novel treatment is the first of its kind to harness the body's own immune system to fight early stage E/GEJ cancers more effectively, providing patients a chance to prevent disease recurrence."

This breakthrough comes at a time when esophageal and gastric cancers, combined, are the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States there will be 18,440 new esophageal cancer and 27,600 stomach cancer cases diagnosed this year.

A Leader in Cancer Clinical Trials

This clinical trial is one of many innovative trials at Baylor University Medical Center, offering patients access to potentially exciting treatment options, many of which are looking to turn on a patient's own cancer fighting cells, their immune cells, to wage a microscopic war between their immune system and their tumor cells. There are more than 100+ active clinical trials enrolling patients with cancer throughout the health system.

Baylor University Medical Center, a part of Baylor Scott & White Health, is accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT), working to define the next generation of immunotherapeutic research and clinical care.

About Dr. Ronan Kelly

Ronan Kelly, MBBCh, MD, MBA, is chief of oncology for the organization's North Texas medical centers and the medical director of Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center – Dallas, located at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Kelly earned his medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a master's in business administration from University College Dublin. He served his oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md, prior to joining the faculty at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md, where he served as the director of the Gastroesophageal Cancer Therapeutics Program and the director of Global Oncology for Johns Hopkins International. Dr. Kelly was recently appointed clinical professor of Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and professor, Clinical Sciences Division, at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. He remains an adjunct associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins. He serves as the co-chair of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) taskforce working to improve the quality of care received by lung cancer patients worldwide. He has authored and co-authored over 150 peer-reviewed publications, abstracts and book chapters, and contributed his work to many prominent healthcare journals.

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About Baylor Scott & White Health
As the largest not-for-profit health system in the state of Texas, Baylor Scott & White promotes the health and well-being of every individual, family and community it serves. It is committed to making quality care more accessible, convenient and affordable through its integrated delivery network, which includes the Baylor Scott & White Health Plan, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, the Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance and its leading digital health platform – MyBSWHealth. Through 51 hospitals and more than 1,200 access points, including flagship academic medical centers in Dallas, Fort Worth and Temple, the system offers the full continuum of care, from primary to award-winning specialty care. Founded as a Christian ministry of healing more than a century ago, Baylor Scott & White today serves more than three million Texans. For more information, visit: