Scientists in Germany have successfully trialled a drug that boosts the immune system of lung cancer patients and extends their life expectancy by four months.

Scientists at the University of Gottingen performed a trial on 850 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, all of whom had no further treatment options available to them.

Half were given atezolizumab, a drug that blocks molecules found on the surface of cancerous cells to give the immune system a greater chance to attack, while the other half were given standard chemotherapy treatment.

Those who were given atezolizumab survived for an average of 13.8 months, while those treated with chemotherapy lived for 9.6 months on average. Patients with higher numbers of the cancer molecules benefitted most from the new drug, with some living more than twice as long than those without.

The drug was also found to have fewer side effects than chemotherapy, with 18.7% of chemotherapy patients ending treatment early, because of the side effects, compared to only 7.6% of patients using atezolizumab.

According to the latest Cancer Research UK statistics, around 46,400 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in the UK in 2014, equating to 130 diagnoses a day.

“Chemotherapy has long been the main treatment for cancer but it’s promising to hear that research has discovered a new drug that could be used to provide improved treatment for lung cancer patients,” says Linda Millband, national practice lead of the clinical negligence team at Thompsons Solicitors.

“We hope that medical bodies in the UK and across the globe act quickly to ensure the drug helps as many cancer patients as possible, while recognising that we have to be realistic about when it will be available for use, as it will need to undergo rigorous testing.

“Until it is available, it’s important that patients are given the best available treatment and are signposted to charities, support groups and rehabilitation services to ensure they have a helping hand and can manage their disease as best as they can.”