Flinders University Investigators Find High BMI Actually Helps Cancer Immunotherapy Patients

Flinders University Investigators Find High BMI Actually Helps Cancer Immunotherapy Patients

Medical research has established that a high Body Mass Index (BMI) adversely impacts one’s risk for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular, and cancer. However, researchers in South Australia at Flinders University may have discovered the exception to the rule: for those on a regimen of atezolizumab, a common immunotherapy treatment for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC), a high BMI is associated with higher probability outcomes of survival.

Published recently in JAMA Oncology in a report titled Association Between Body Mass Index (BMI) and Overall Survival With Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Therapy for Advanced Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer: Analysis of Atezolizumab Clinical Trialsthe research team Down Under found the exact opposite to be true in certain situations when it comes to BMI.

The Study

Led by Ganessan Kichenadasse, MD, a medical oncology researcher at the Flinders Centre for Innovation Cancer, the findings are “interesting” and raise the consideration for further study inclusive of other anticancer drugs. More specifically, Kichenadasse noted the need to study possible links between BMI and related inflammation, which could point to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind “the paradoxical response to this form of cancer treatment.”

The South Australian-based team found that those NSCLC patients with high BMI (25 kg/m2) in four clinical trials faced a significant reduction in mortality with atezolizumab and hence, benefitted from immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy. As treatment for NSCLC (and other forms of cancer) are rapidly evolving and involve ICIs, molecularly targeted drugs and chemotherapy investigators need to better understand what high BMI is being associated with greater survival.

Obesity Paradox

Apparently, in certain studies, obesity is associated with higher risks of developing cancer. Yet, with these findings, a high BMI score “counter-intuitively, may protect and give greater survival benefits to certain individuals” and hence, positive uptake of immunotherapy. 

About Flinders University

A public university in Adelaide, South Australia, was founded in 1966 and named in honor of British navigator Matthew Flinders who explored and surveyed the South Australian coastline in the early 19th century. A “verdant university” Flinders University is a member of the Innovative Research Universities (IRU) Group actively involved in pioneering cross-disciplinary approaches to education. Its faculties of medicine and the humanities are ranked among the nation’s top 10. The university itself is ranked within the world’s top 500 institutions in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The university actively conducts a wide array of clinical trials.

Lead Research/Investigator

Ganessan Kichenadasse, MD 

Call to Action: the lead investigator in this study believes these findings warrant more research into what the role of high BMI in other cancer treatments is.