The Growing Arsenal of Immunotherapy Drugs for Melanoma


Large numbers of immune cells (T cells in particular) are frequently found within or adjacent to melanoma tumors, indicating that the tumors attract the attention—if not the action—of the immune system. True to its reputation as one of the most ‘immunogenic‘ cancers, melanoma now has more U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved immunotherapy (immune system-targeting) drugs than any other cancer type. As a consequence, metastatic melanoma is no longer the universally fatal disease it was even just 3 or 4 years ago. Continue reading…


Cancer Stem Cells and How to Get Rid of Them


If you have not yet heard of cancer stem cells (CSCs), often considered to be the real culprits in cancer, it is about time you do. CSCs are stem cells found in tumors. Drugs that target them are showing promise in clinical trials. More on that later; first, let’s introduce the concept of stem cells:

All normal tissues in our bodies develop from a small number of very special cells known as stem cells. Stem cells can divide a seemingly unlimited number of times. Continue reading…


To PD-L1 or Not to PD-L1: That Is the Question


These days, it seems that I write mostly about immune checkpoint blockade drugs, or some other new immunotherapy treatment for cancer. This post is no different—it covers PD-L1, a protein that is at the center of clinical decisions for selecting patients who are likely to benefit from treatment with an anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 drug. Continue reading…


What Determines Whether a Melanoma Patient Will Respond to Checkpoint Blockade Drugs?


Of all cancer types, melanoma is the most investigated in terms of its potential to be treated through immune system-based approaches. More immunotherapy drugs are approved for melanoma than for any other type of cancer, and more are in development. Recent additions to the immunotherapy arsenal are the ‘anti-PD-1’ immune checkpoint blockade drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo). Continue reading…


The CAR T-Cell Treatment: Will It Work for Solid Tumors?


Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a new, immune system-based cancer treatment that has garnered recent media attention. In a clinical trial, CAR T-cell treatment left no signs of tumors in 70% to 90% of children and adults with the aggressive blood cancer acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). ALL is almost always fatal, and the results observed with CAR T-cell treatment are nothing short of spectacular. Continue reading…


Melanoma at ASCO 2015: Immunotherapy Continues to Make Headlines


The biggest news in melanoma treatment from the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting was undoubtedly the report from a large, phase III, randomized clinical trial that compared a combination of two ‘checkpoint inhibitor’ drugs—nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy)—with the same drugs given alone.

In the CheckMate-067 trial, 945 previously untreated patients with unresectable stage III or IV melanoma were assigned to Opdivo alone, Opdivo plus Yervoy, or Yervoy alone. Continue reading…


Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Melanoma: New Directions


The drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014 and 2015, respectively. These two competing blockbuster drugs are already changing the outlook in metastatic melanoma, previously considered to be a fatal disease. Known as ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors,’ they work by releasing ‘brakes’ on a patient’s own immune system, freeing it to attack tumors. In the wake of their success, researchers are now taking immune checkpoint inhibition in new directions. Continue reading…


Super Patient: Patient Advocates Help Susan Steel Win Admittance to Clinical Trials


Update:  We are deeply saddened to report that Susan passed away on January 13, 2016. It is a privilege to continue to share her story and keep her memory alive.

When Susan Steel first noticed the mole that derailed her life ten years ago, she was busy raising two children and running two businesses. “I just wasn’t paying attention,” she says. It wasn’t until the mole grew and started to bleed that she finally saw a doctor—and then she was hit with the news that she had melanoma and that it had spread to her lymph nodes.

“My life changed very fast,” Susan recalls. “I was told that my chances were very slim and that I should get my affairs in order.” Continue reading…


Super Patient: Guido Tracks Side Effects from His Chemotherapy as a Young Adult


Sixteen years ago, Guido’s right leg hurt, but none of his doctors could figure out why. “I knew something was wrong, but nobody knew the reason. The worst thing was I didn’t know what to do about it,” says Guido, who was a college student in Austria at the time.

Tests didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, so he just had to live with the pain. But then, after nearly a year, it got so bad he was hospitalized—and this time X-rays revealed something growing around his thigh bone (femur). Genetic testing identified the growth as Ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer that usually affects children and adolescents. “It’s very uncommon in people in their 20s,” Guido says. “It’s not the first thing physicians think of.” Continue reading…