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…


Celldex Therapeutics Announces Initiation of Phase 1/2 Study of Varlilumab in Combination with Ipilimumab and CDX-1401 in Metastatic Melanoma

“Celldex Therapeutics, Inc. (CLDX) today announced the initiation of a Phase 1/2 safety pilot and expansion study examining the investigational combination of varlilumab and ipilimumab (Yervoy(R); Bristol-Myers Squibb) in patients with Stage III or IV metastatic melanoma. Varlilumab is Celldex’s fully human monoclonal antibody that targets CD27, a critical co-stimulatory molecule in the immune activation cascade. Ipilimumab, a recombinant, human monoclonal antibody that blocks CTLA-4, is FDA approved for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma. In the Phase 2 portion of the study, patients with tumors that express NY-ESO-1 will also receive CDX-1401, Celldex’s off-the-shelf antibody-based dendritic cell vaccine that targets tumors expressing the NY-ESO-1 oncoprotein.

“The three agents in this study were specifically selected because they uniquely intervene at key points of immune regulation and because Celldex has observed enhanced activity in preclinical studies when varlilumab is combined with either checkpoint inhibitors or with vaccines. In addition, this study will also build on previous clinical data from the CDX-1401 experience that suggests that CDX-1401 may predispose patients to better outcome on checkpoint inhibitors, including ipilimumab. “We believe sophisticated combination approaches centered on immunotherapy hold significant promise for the treatment of cancer and, to this end, are committed to exploring novel combinations across a broad array of mechanisms and indications. This latest trial marks the third Phase 1/2 combination study that varlilumab has entered and the first three-drug combination study,” said Thomas Davis, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Celldex Therapeutics.”


Immune System-Boosting Drug Combo to Begin Testing in Patients in New Clinical Trial

The gist: A new drug combination will be tested in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), metastatic melanoma (MEL), colorectal cancer (CRC), ovarian cancer, or head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCCHN). The treatment combines the drugs varlilumab and nivolumab (Opdivo). Both drugs are immunotherapies; they activate a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. The trial will test the safety of the combo and see how well it works.

“Celldex Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: CLDX) and Bristol Myers-Squibb (NYSE: BMY) today announced the initiation of a Phase 1/2 dose escalation and cohort expansion study examining the investigational combination of varlilumab, Celldex’s CD27 targeting investigational immune-activating antibody and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunotherapy Opdivo (nivolumab). The study will be conducted in adult patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), metastatic melanoma (MEL), colorectal cancer (CRC), ovarian cancer, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCCHN). Varlilumab is a fully human monoclonal antibody that targets CD27, a critical molecule in the activation pathway of lymphocytes. Opdivo is a human programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) blocking antibody that binds to the PD-1 receptor expressed on activated T-cells. This study will evaluate the safety and tolerability of the combination and address the hypothesis that the combination of these two mechanisms enhance the anti-tumor activity compared to either agent alone. Celldex is responsible for conducting the study and development costs will be shared.”


Celldex Therapeutics' Varlilumab Continues to Demonstrate Very Favorable Profile

“Celldex Therapeutics, Inc. (Nasdaq:CLDX) today reported data from its ongoing Phase 1 study of the fully human monoclonal antibody varlilumab (CDX-1127) in cancer. Varlilumab is an immunotherapy designed to enhance the body’s natural immune response by directly activating T cells that can specifically recognize and kill cancer cells. Preclinical data support the broad study of varlilumab in combination with a number of other anti-cancer agents including but not limited to checkpoint inhibitors, chemotherapies, targeted therapies and vaccines. Varlilumab will enter at least four combination studies in the second half of 2014.”

Editor’s note: As mentioned above, varlilumab is an immunotherapy that works by boosting a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. In a clinical trial testing the drug in volunteer patients, it shown promise for treating several different types of cancer, including metastatic melanoma.