Background Inflammation in the tumour microenvironment mediated by interleukin 1β is hypothesised to have a major role in cancer invasiveness, progression, and metastases. We did an additional analysis in the Canakinumab Anti-inflammatory Thrombosis Outcomes Study (CANTOS), a randomised trial of the role of interleukin-1β inhibition in atherosclerosis, with the aim of establishing whether inhibition of a major product of the Nod-like receptor protein 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome with canakinumab might alter cancer incidence. Methods We did a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of canakinumab in 10 061 patients with atherosclerosis who had had a myocardial infarction, were free of previously diagnosed cancer, and had concentrations of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) of 2 mg/L or greater. To assess dose–response effects, patients were randomly assigned by computer-generated codes to three canakinumab doses (50 mg, 150 mg, and 300 mg, subcutaneously every 3 months) or placebo. Participants were followed up for incident cancer diagnoses, which were adjudicated by an oncology endpoint committee masked to drug or dose allocation. Analysis was by intention to treat. The trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT01327846. The trial is closed (the last patient visit was in June, 2017). Findings Baseline concentrations of hsCRP (median 6·0 mg/L vs 4·2 mg/L; p<0·0001) and interleukin 6 (3·2 vs 2·6 ng/L; p<0·0001) were significantly higher among participants subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer than among those not diagnosed with cancer. During median follow-up of 3·7 years, compared with placebo, canakinumab was associated with dose-dependent reductions in concentrations of hsCRP of 26–41% and of interleukin 6 of 25–43% (p<0·0001 for all comparisons). Total cancer mortality (n=196) was significantly lower in the pooled canakinumab group than in the placebo group (p=0·0007 for trend across groups), but was significantly lower than placebo only in the 300 mg group individually (hazard ratio [HR] 0·49 [95% CI 0·31–0·75]; p=0·0009). Incident lung cancer (n=129) was significantly less frequent in the 150 mg (HR 0·61 [95% CI 0·39–0·97]; p=0·034) and 300 mg groups (HR 0·33 [95% CI 0·18–0·59]; p<0·0001; p<0·0001 for trend across groups). Lung cancer mortality was significantly less common in the canakinumab 300 mg group than in the placebo group (HR 0·23 [95% CI 0·10–0·54]; p=0·0002) and in the pooled canakinumab population than in the placebo group (p=0·0002 for trend across groups). Fatal infections or sepsis were significantly more common in the canakinumab groups than in the placebo group. All-cause mortality did not differ significantly between the canakinumab and placebo groups (HR 0·94 [95% CI 0·83–1·06]; p=0·31). Interpretation Our hypothesis-generating data suggest the possibility that anti-inflammatory therapy with canakinumab targeting the interleukin-1β innate immunity pathway could significantly reduce incident lung cancer and lung cancer mortality. Replication of these data in formal settings of cancer screening and treatment is required. Funding Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
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