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Checkpoint inhibitors like Keytruda and Opdivo can be incredibly powerful cancer-killing drugs — when they work, that is, which is less than 70% of the time. For years, scientists have hoped to find a way to identify a combination of therapies that might help these drugs work for a larger number of people.

New clinical trial results published Thursday in Science provide some of the strongest evidence yet for an unusual but promising mashup: pairing immunotherapy drugs with fecal microbiota transplants, or FMTs.


Doctors from the University of Pittsburgh and the National Cancer Institute transplanted poop from seven people who responded to checkpoint inhibitors to 16 people with skin cancer who did not. Six, or about 40% of people who received the transplant, responded to Keytruda (also known as pembrolizumab) after the procedure, according to the paper — meaning that their cancer no longer seemed to be progressing or that their tumors shrank markedly or disappeared.

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