Experimental drug shows early promise for some cases of advanced melanoma

April 8, 2014 by Amy Norton, Healthday Reporter
Experimental drug shows early promise for some cases of advanced melanoma
Helps immune system recognize, kill cancer cells, researchers explain.

(HealthDay)—An experimental cancer drug that activates the immune system has shown early promise for advanced cases of melanoma skin cancer, researchers report.

The findings come from an early stage trial of just 31 . But experts were cautiously optimistic about what the study showed: The drug's side effects were manageable, and four patients saw their tumors shrink.

That's a small number, but a trial like this is largely aimed at seeing whether a drug is safe and finding a tolerable dose.

"Any time you see some responders in an early study, it's encouraging," said Dr. Jeffrey Weber, a melanoma expert at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, who was not involved in the research.

Much more remains to be learned about the drug—known for now as IMCgp100. "But," Weber said, "it is good enough to show some activity in an early stage trial. It's definitely worth pursuing."

IMCgp100 is just one of several "immunotherapies" under study for advanced melanoma. The general idea behind immunotherapy is to help the body's immune system do a better job of recognizing and killing off cancer cells.

Melanoma is the rarest, but deadliest, form of . Caught early, it's curable with surgery. But once it spreads to distant lymph nodes or other organs—known as stage 4 melanoma—the disease is very hard to treat.

In just the past few years, though, researchers have made headway. In 2011, the United States and Europe approved an immunotherapy drug called ipilimumab (Yervoy)—the first treatment shown to prolong the lives of some patients with advanced melanoma.

Still, only a minority of patients respond to the drug, and it can cause severe side effects—including life-threatening inflammation of the liver or digestive tract.

So there's an acute need for additional therapies, said Dr. Mark Middleton, who was to present the new findings on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in San Diego.

"The reality is, despite exciting advances in treatment, most of the patients we see with advanced melanoma will die of the disease," said Middleton, of Oxford University in England.

IMCgp100 targets melanoma in two ways: It attaches to a specific, tiny protein found on some , and it activates nearby T-cells to attack the tumor.

The catch is that a patient's cancer must be positive for that protein, called HLA A2—which is true in about 45 percent of melanomas, Middleton said.

The 31 patients in this study were all HLA A2-positive, and all but one had stage 4 melanoma. They were split into eight groups and given different doses of IMCgp100. Patients who were able to tolerate the first infusion received six more weekly treatments.

In the end, there were four patients who showed a "partial response" to the drug, which meant their tumors shrunk. One patient continued to see a regression with further treatment, and is still stable after more than 10 months, according to Middleton.

The most common side effects were rash, fever and "tumor flare"—swelling and tenderness at the site of a tumor. Two of four patients who got the highest drug dose did have an immediate drop in blood pressure, so the researchers have since set the maximum dose below that.

Middleton said his team is now studying the drug in a larger group of patients, and trying to find the most effective regimen.

"The other obvious question is, where would this fit in?" Middleton said.

Besides Yervoy and other immunotherapies under development, there are also newer "targeted" drugs that directly attack proteins found on some melanomas—including drugs called BRAF inhibitors.

Weber said researchers will have to figure out whether combinations of different therapies work better than a single one—and which patients stand to benefit from a particular combination.

Middleton agreed. "We now have a whole range of therapies coming out, which is exciting," he said. But the difficult part, he added, will be understanding how to best use them.

In the United States, about 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and 9,700 will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. While is relatively uncommon, its incidence has been rising for the past few decades, the society notes.

Immunocore, the company developing IMCgp100, funded the current study. Middleton reports no financial interests in the work.

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Explore further: New antibody-drug conjugate shows early promise against all forms of melanoma

More information: The American Cancer Society has more on melanoma treatments.

Related Stories

New antibody-drug conjugate shows early promise against all forms of melanoma

April 8, 2014
The investigational drug DEDN6526A, which is a new member of a class of drugs called antibody-drug conjugates, was safe, tolerable, and showed hints of activity against different forms of melanoma—cutaneous, mucosal, and ...

Genetic testing beneficial in melanoma treatment

April 4, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Genetic screening of cancer can help doctors customize treatments so that patients with melanoma have the best chance of beating it, according to the results of a clinical trial by researchers at the University ...

Biomarker identifies melanoma patients who may respond to immunotherapy MK-3475

April 7, 2014
Among melanoma patients treated with the PD-1 inhibitor MK-3475, those whose tumors had the protein PD-L1 had better immune responses and higher survival rates, according to results presented here at the AACR Annual Meeting ...

Experimental drug helps body fight advanced melanoma

March 3, 2014
(HealthDay)—An experimental drug that harnesses the power of the body's immune system to fight cancer has helped some patients with advanced melanoma keep their disease in check for several years, a new study indicates.

Investigational drug may increase survival for some patients with advanced melanoma

March 4, 2014
An experimental drug aimed at restoring the immune system's ability to spot and attack cancer halted cancer progression or shrank tumors in patients with advanced melanoma, according to a multisite, early-phase clinical trial ...

FDA approval of revolutionary two-drug combo to treat advanced melanoma

January 27, 2014
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have laid the groundwork for a revolutionary new combination therapy for the treatment of advanced melanoma – melanoma that cannot be removed surgically or has spread to other areas of ...

Recommended for you

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

Discovery could lead to better results for patients undergoing radiation

July 19, 2017
More than half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, in which high doses of radiation are aimed at diseased tissue to kill cancer cells. But due to a phenomenon known as radiation-induced bystander effect (RIBE), in which ...

Definitive genomic study reveals alterations driving most medulloblastoma brain tumors

July 19, 2017
The most comprehensive analysis yet of medulloblastoma has identified genomic changes responsible for more than 75 percent of the brain tumors, including two new suspected cancer genes that were found exclusively in the least ...

Novel CRISPR-Cas9 screening enables discovery of new targets to aid cancer immunotherapy

July 19, 2017
A novel screening method developed by a team at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to test the function of thousands of tumor genes in mice—has ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.