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…


Advanced Melanoma: The Promise and Shortcomings of Drugs Injected Directly into Tumors


In the past 3 years, the treatment landscape for metastatic melanoma has changed dramatically. We saw the advent of drugs that inhibit mutant BRAF and activate MEK proteins (vemurafenib, dabrafenib, and trametinib) and drugs known as immune checkpoint inhibitors (ipilimumab, Keytruda, Opdivo, and others). These treatments are ‘systemic’; that is, they are taken by mouth or injected directly into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. However, as I reported earlier this year, drugs that are injected directly into tumors—’intralesional drugs’—have recently gained some attention. Two of them were featured at the 2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. New data, and doubts, on these drugs have since emerged. Continue reading…


Super Patient: Wade Hayes Beats Stage IV Colon Cancer—Twice


Country musician Wade Hayes had no idea he had colon cancer until it was almost too late. He’d had telltale signs: bleeding and lethargy—which is caused by anemia due to blood loss—for a couple of years. But these symptoms began when he was only 40 years old, a decade younger than when initial colon cancer screening is recommended. And he had no family history of the disease. Taking all of this into account, a doctor friend attributed Wade’s bleeding to his heavy weightlifting. Continue reading…


Immune System-Activating Drugs in Combination Treatments May Be Next Big Thing for Melanoma


Among solid tumors, the curative potential of immunotherapies has been explored most in melanoma. One reason for this is that melanoma tumors often contain so-called immune infiltrates—patches of T cells, the killer cells of the immune system. It seems that these fighter cells arrive at the ‘battlefield’ to target tumor cells for killing, but instead become ‘frozen,’ unable to attack.  How to activate the tumor-killing potential of T cells has been an area of intense and fruitful research, leading to the development of several immunotherapy drugs. Continue reading…