Vaccine shows benefit for melanoma in Phase III trial

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Winship Cancer Institute melanoma specialist David Lawson, MD, helped bring to light encouraging news about advanced melanoma, typically one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

Lawson, professor of hematology and medical oncology, was a co-author of a study published in June 2 in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that a therapeutic melanoma vaccine improves responses and progression-free survival rates when combined with Interleukin-2, an immunotherapy drug.

“It makes the point that you can add vaccine to Interleukin-2 and possibly improve response rates,” says Lawson.

No vaccine is yet available to treat melanoma, Lawson explains, and it could be years before one is available. But the study was significant because it marked the first vaccine study in melanoma to show clinical benefit in a randomized Phase III trial. While vaccines have been studied as a way to help the body fight cancer, none has been approved by the FDA for use in advanced disease.

Patients in the trial were randomized to receive high-dose IL-2 or IL-2 plus a vaccine, a peptide known as gp100. Those receiving the vaccine and IL-2 had a response rate of 16 percent, while those receiving only IL-2 had a response rate of 6 percent. Progression-free survival for the vaccine group was 2.2 months, compared with 1.6 months for the IL-2 group.

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