Can We Personalize Treatments for Melanoma Patients to Boost Response and Spare Toxicity?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 8:43am
Associate Professor of Oncology, Section Chief, Soft Tissue and Melanoma, Director, IL-2 Program

Melanoma and soft tissue cancers are diseases in which prognosis is highly dependent on stage. Ninety to ninety-five percent of patients with early stage I diagnoses are completely cured with non-invasive treatment. Stage II deeper tumors and stage III diagnoses with lymph node involvement typically require a more guarded prognosis. These patients’ risk of recurrence after primary treatment increases significantly.

Late stage soft tissue cancers are metastatic, or in other words, have already spread to other parts of the body. Patients with this diagnosis are often prescribed high dose Interleukin-2 (IL-2).

IL-2 is a drug that works by promoting the development of T-cells in the body—the cells that work in our immune system to destroy virally infected cells and tumor cells. This immunotherapy is demanding, however. For this reason, IL-2 is normally not administered to early stage cancer patients. The drug itself, though, is highly effective – successful to the point of nearly eliminating the disease and providing hope for cure.

At Roswell Park we aspire to set the bar higher. We plan to improve on the therapeutic effect of IL-2 by investing in clinical trials that study new approved agents to combat melanoma and soft tissue cancers. Currently, we are investigating the significance of BRAF inhibitors and the drug, Ipilimumab, in combination or in sequence with IL-2 when treating these diagnoses.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute is also participating in the high dose Interleukin-2 Select trial, a national effort studying blood and tissue biomarkers in patients who are candidates for or who are receiving IL-2. This trial is being conducted at 14 treatment centers in the Untied States that specialize in giving IL-2. The attempt is to see in advance which patients may have a higher probability of response to this treatment. This data will provide doctors with the ability to spare those patients whose bodies likely would not respond to IL-2 from going through this difficult and highly toxic treatment.