ORLANDO, FL – April 16, 2023 – Medical researchers presented a study, at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting on April 16th, reporting that their skin cancer patients were 44% more likely to avoid recurrence of dangerous skin cancers after 2 years if they had a new injection treatment. The treatment was developed by Moderna and Merck pharmaceutical companies. It is a personalized approach to vaccination. Dr Ryan Sullivan, a co-author of the study from Massachusetts General Cancer Center, said “It’s probably the first real data that suggests that this personalized approach to vaccination may be worth exploring further.”
The purpose of the vaccine is to reduce the risk of melanoma, the deadly skin cancer, from recurring. 100 thousand Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year. About two-thirds of the patients who are diagnosed with multiple cancerous sites do not survive 5 years. Melanoma produces antigens due to tumor mutations and is known to be controlled by the immune system. It is the most immune-sensitive cancer with the most tumor mutations. Researchers feel that if a personalized vaccine works for melanoma, then it may be effective against other immune-sensitive cancers, like non-small cell lung cancer.
Personalized medicine, also called precision medicine, is a new method for custom-disease prevention strategies that are tailored to the individual patient. The melanoma vaccine is custom-made for each patient by using the patient’s tumor and blood for genetic sequencing. Unique proteins associated with the patient’s unique tumor mutations are identified that are not in normal tissue. The custom vaccine stimulates the tumor cells to make the unique tumor-specific proteins so that the immune system can kill the tumor cells that make them. The immune system effects may be long-lasting and kill any future cancer cells that develop. The vaccine takes about 8 weeks to make. Each patient is treated with the cancer immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (called ‘pembro’), brand name Keytruda, prior to receiving the vaccine. This treatment is continued for 1 year.
The results of the study show that the cancer returned in 22% of patients treated with the vaccine and pembro within 2 years. However, it returned in 40% of patients who only got pembro. Therefore, 44% fewer patients have a recurrence of melanoma with pembro and the new vaccine treatment regimen. The vaccine does not seem to add any more side-effects. All patients enrolled in the study had complete resection of their tumor at the start of the study and were randomized to 1 of 2 treatment arms. Each patient received up to 9 doses of the vaccine.
This cancer treatment is very expensive. Pembro costs 185 thousand dollars for one year of treatment. Although, insured patients will not have to pay the full price. The cost of the new melanoma vaccine has not been determined.
Dr. Jeffrey Weber, the study’s director who works at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone, said “This study is extraordinarily important, because it gives hope that this novel strategy will provide clinical benefit.” A longer study is planned to start later this year.
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Contact: Dr. Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, email@example.com