Novel Immune-Based Cancer Drug Imprime PGG Appears Effective in Certain Lung Cancer Patients

Adding the drug Imprime PGG to chemotherapy and antibody therapy may be effective for certain patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Imprime PGG contains a molecule called beta glucan, which can stimulate the body’s immune cells to destroy cancer cells. This process may be especially effective in patients with high levels of immune system proteins that bind to beta glucan, so-called antibeta glucan antibodies. In a recent clinical trial, patients with advanced NSCLC received the antibody drug cetuximab (Erbitux) and the chemotherapy agents carboplatin (Paraplatin) and paclitaxel (Taxol/Abraxane), and some were also given Imprime PGG. While survival across all patients was not affected by Imprime PGG treatment, it was increased in Imprime PGG-treated patients with high levels of antibeta glucan antibodies. Seventeen percent of these patients survived 3 years or more, while none of the other patient groups did.

Targeted Radiation Could Help Find and Treat Melanomas

A pair of new studies shows the promise of using radioactive drugs to reveal and shrink melanomas. The drugs are based on benzamide, a small molecule that binds the dark pigment in melanomas (melanin). In the first study, a phase III clinical trial showed that a new melanin-binding radioactive tag is not as good as the current radioactive tag for staging melanomas. While the current tag is not specific to melanomas, the new tag fell short because melanoma produces less melanin as it progresses. However, the researchers point out that the new tag may still help diagnose melanomas that have spread. The second study included 26 people with melanomas that had spread, and nine received a radioactive melanin-binding treatment at a range of doses. Encouragingly, three of the five with doses higher than the range average survived more than two years.

Early, High-Dose Interferon Fails to Stop Melanoma

A new study has dashed hopes that high doses of interferon given early on would be enough to curb melanoma. In a phase II clinical trial of about 200 people with melanomas that had not begun to spread, researchers treated half with high-dose interferon every day for a month and the other half with the same high-dose interferon regimen followed by 48 weeks of “maintenance” doses of this immune response-boosting protein. Maintenance doses are typically about 50% lower and are given three times a week instead of daily. The researchers found that the latter group did better, living longer without recurrence as well as surviving longer overall. The latter year-long interferon treatment is standard in the US and Australia, while lower doses of interferon are more commonly used in Europe, says an accompanying editorial.

New Clinical Trial Examines Lung Cancer Drug Bavituximab

The makers of the cancer drug bavituximab are initiating the SUNRISE trial, a phase III clinical trial investigating the efficacy of the drug against non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Patients with advanced non-squamous NSCLC whose cancer has progressed after first-line treatment will receive either bavituximab plus docetaxel (Taxotere) or Taxotere by itself. Bavituximab inhibits phosphatidylserine, a protein found on the surface of tumors and tumor-associated cells that acts to suppress the body’s immune reponse. By blocking phosphatidylserine’s action, bavituximab allows the immune system to continue attacking the cancer. To find out more, patients can go to

New Dye Could Tag Melanomas That Aren't Dark

Surgeons may be able to see—and remove—skin cancers completely, thanks to a new compound that tags tumors. Called BLZ-100, the experimental compound combines a fluorescent dye with a protein fragment that binds cancer cells. A phase I clinical trial of intravenously injected BLZ-100 will soon be underway in Australia, enrolling up to 30 people with basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, or melanomas that lack the dark pigment melanin, making them hard to diagnose. In addition, U.S. clinical trials are expected for other kinds of tumors by the end of 2014.

Clinical Trial Continues to Examine Lung Cancer Vaccine

A new phase II/III clinical trial will further investigate the effectiveness of the lung cancer vaccine tergenpumatucel-L (HyperAcute-Lung immunotherapy, or HAL) against non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Patients with advanced NSCLC that has resisted previous treatment will receive either HAL or the chemotherapy drug docetaxel (Taxotere). HAL consists of lung cancer cells that have been modified to prevent them from growing. A mouse gene has been inserted into these cells, causing them to express a molecule on their surface that human immune systems recognize as foreign. When the cells are injected into humans, they provoke a strong immune response, which stimulates the immune system to also attack the patient’s own lung cancer cells. A previous phase I/II trial of HAL had produced promising results.

Rash from Tarceva May Herald Drug Effectiveness

Skin rash is a common side effect of the lung cancer drug erlotinib (Tarceva). However, a clinical trial suggests that this rash can be a good sign and can be used to guide dosing. One hundred twenty-four patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) received first-line treatment with Tarceva. The drug dose was gradually increased until patients developed a skin rash or other side effects that prevented further dose increases. Seventy percent of patients developed a skin rash. Patients who developed a skin rash survived longer than those who did not (6.8 months longer on average), even though they did not differ in how much the treatment reduced the growth of their tumors.

IL-12 Therapy May Shrink Melanomas Not Directly Treated

An experimental immunotherapy that delivers interleukin-12 (IL-12) directly into a melanoma tumor may also shrink tumors elsewhere in the body. Called ImmunoPulse, the treatment entails injecting a tumor with interleukin-12 DNA and delivering electric shocks to make the tumor cells absorb this DNA. These cells then produce IL-12, boosting the immune response against the tumor. In an ongoing phase II trial of 21 people with melanomas that were treated with ImmunoPulse, tumors shrank in 8 of them (38%) and disappeared for at least 6 months in 2 more of them. Moreover, untreated tumors also shrank in about 60%. The possibility of body-wide effects is encouraging because, in contrast to systemic IL-12 therapy, ImmunoPulse treatments have yet to cause serious side effects.

Immune System-Boosting Treatments Show Long-Sought Successes for Lung Cancer Patients

In the past 2 years, cancer treatments known as immune therapies have become all the rage. However, they have actually been explored for decades, particularly in melanoma, and have produced some notable successes. Now, immune therapies are showing more and more promise for lung cancer. Continue reading…