Ipilimumab 'Greased the Wheel' for Newer Agents in Melanoma

The gist: In recent years, drugs that boost the immune system to fight cancer have taken center stage in melanoma treatment. These drugs are called immunotherapies. This article describes how the drug ipilimumab paved the way for more immunotherapy drugs for melanoma.

“There has been a paradigm shift in the treatment of melanoma, and immunotherapy now has center stage. There was a steep learning curve with the development of the first of these agents, ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb), but it has paved the way for a wave of new products.

“Ipilimumab was the first immune checkpoint inhibitor to be tested in patients, and the initial results showed responses were ‘quite remarkable,’ but the drug had unusual kinetics and unusual adverse events, commented Steven Bernstein, MD, from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“Speaking at a company-sponsored satellite symposium here at the Society for Melanoma Research meeting, he emphasized that it was investigator experience with the drug that guided the protocols in clinical trials. Later, investigators also developed a new way of assessing immune responses as a better way of capturing the results that were being seen than the RECIST criteria that are used with chemotherapy.

“Recalling some of the lessons learned was Steven O’Day, MD, director of the Los Angeles Skin Cancer Institute, who was involved in the pivotal trial (N Engl J Med. 2010;363:711-723) that led to ipilimumab approval. This was the first time that a drug had been shown to improve overall survival in metastatic melanoma. That achievement was all the more remarkable considering that the response rate was only around 10%, he said.”


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…


Failed Cancer Vaccines Might Live Again with New Immune Drugs

“Using vaccines to fight cancer is a field littered with failures but experts believe it is possible the approach could get a new lease of life if such shots are combined with a new class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors.

“Unlike traditional preventative vaccines, therapeutic cancer vaccines are designed for people with established disease and are supposed to boost the patient’s immune system to keep tumors at bay.

“Unfortunately, the theory has not worked out in practice because, while the vaccines are successful at triggering a response from the ‘foot soldiers’ of the immune system, cancer cells still manage to escape detection.

“The result has been a series of failures with high-profile experimental cancer vaccines such as Merck KGaA’s Stimuvax and GlaxoSmithKline’s MAGE-A3.

“GSK threw in the towel on its vaccine in April, dashing hopes for a project that was once seen as a potential multibillion-dollar sales opportunity in lung cancer and melanoma.”


ASCO 2014: Highlights for People Dealing with Melanoma


Every year, new cancer treatment insights are shared at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. Here are some of the most notable recent developments in melanoma treatment, gleaned from researchers’ presentations at ASCO last month: Continue reading…


FDA Grants Merck’s Anti-PD1 Antibody Priority Review

“The FDA has granted Merck’s anti-PD1 antibody MK-3475 a priority review designation for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma in patients who have previously been treated with ipilimumab. Priority review status is reserved for drugs considered to offer a significant improvement in the safety or efficacy of the treatment of a serious condition. It will shorten the drug’s FDA review period from 10 months to 6 months.”

Editor’s note: MK-3475 is an immunotherapy drug that works by boosting a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. While this story is about melanoma, anti-PD1 drugs like MK-3475 have also shown promise for other cancers. Once it is approved by the FDA for unresectable or metastatic melanoma, doctors in the U.S. will be able to prescribe it to their patients outside of the clinical trial system. 


FDA Grants Merck’s Anti-PD1 Antibody Priority Review

“The FDA has granted Merck’s anti-PD1 antibody MK-3475 a priority review designation for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma in patients who have previously been treated with ipilimumab. Priority review status is reserved for drugs considered to offer a significant improvement in the safety or efficacy of the treatment of a serious condition. It will shorten the drug’s FDA review period from 10 months to 6 months.”

Editor’s note: MK-3475 is an immunotherapy drug that works by boosting a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Once it is approved by the FDA for unresectable or metastatic melanoma, doctors in the U.S. will be able to prescribe it to their patients outside of the clinical trial system.


FDA Grants Merck’s Anti-PD1 Antibody Priority Review

“The FDA has granted Merck’s anti-PD1 antibody MK-3475 a priority review designation for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma in patients who have previously been treated with ipilimumab. Priority review status is reserved for drugs considered to offer a significant improvement in the safety or efficacy of the treatment of a serious condition. It will shorten the drug’s FDA review period from 10 months to 6 months.”

Editor’s note: MK-3475 is an immunotherapy drug that works by boosting a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. While this story is about melanoma, anti-PD1 drugs like MK-3475 have also shown promise for other cancers, including for lung cancer. Once it is approved by the FDA for unresectable or metastatic melanoma, doctors in the U.S. will be able to prescribe it to their patients outside of the clinical trial system. 


Infecting Just One Tumor with a Virus Could Boost the Systemic Effectiveness of Cancer Immunotherapy

“A Ludwig Cancer Research study suggests that the clinical efficacy of checkpoint blockade, a powerful new strategy to harness the immune response to treat cancers, might be dramatically improved if combined with oncolytic virotherapy, an investigational intervention that employs viruses to destroy tumors.

“Published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the study evaluated a combination therapy in which the Newcastle disease virus (NDV), a bird virus not ordinarily harmful to humans, is injected directly into one of two melanoma tumors implanted in mice, followed by an antibody that essentially releases the brakes on the immune response. The researchers report that the combination induced a potent and systemically effective anti-tumor immune response that destroyed the non-infected tumor as well. Even tumor types that have hitherto proved resistant to checkpoint blockade and other immunotherapeutic strategies were susceptible to this combined therapy.”

Editor’s Note: This story is about research that was performed in mice. For that reason, we cannot assume that similar results would happen for humans. However, viruses like the one explored here are already being used in people. To learn more about immunotherapy—cancer treatments that use the immune system to fight tumors—visit our Melanoma Basics.


New Therapies Targeting Cancer could Change Everything

“In the summer of 2012, a year after his wife had died of lung cancer, Michael Harris scraped open an old mole on his back and it would not stop bleeding. The doctors said he had stage 4 melanoma, with a virtually inoperable tumor, and that patients in his condition typically lived about eight months. By last June, the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs.

“At that point Harris joined a clinical trial at Georgetown University, one of scores that have sprung up around the country to test a new class of cancer drugs called immune-checkpoint inhibitors. Two weeks after his first infusion, Harris’s primary tumor was fading, along with the black cancerous beads around it. A month later, his liver and lungs were clean.”