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Messages - Cancer Health Editors

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Combining an investigational anti-GD2 monoclonal antibody with induction chemotherapy yielded promising two-year event-free survival in pediatric patients with newly diagnosed high-risk neuroblastoma, according to results from a phase II trial published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Approximately 650 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in North America, and the disease predominantly affects children under the age of five years. Because the symptoms can be non-specific, about half of patients are diagnosed after the cancer has spread and progressed to high-risk neuroblastoma, according to Wayne L. Furman, MD, member of the Department of Oncology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Patients with high-risk neuroblastoma undergo intense treatment that includes chemotherapy, surgery, stem cell transplant, radiotherapy, a biologic agent, and treatment with a monoclonal anti-GD2 antibody called dinutuximab. “Despite the aggressive treatment these kids receive, more than half have disease recurrence,” said Furman.


A healthy gut microbiome—the community of microbes in the intestines—may play an important role in influencing the effectiveness of immune-based cancer treatment, according to recent research.

People with advanced melanoma who respond well to checkpoint inhibitors have more diverse gut bacteria than nonresponders. But that doesn’t mean people about to start immunotherapy should begin taking probiotics, those widely available over-the-counter supplements full of beneficial bacteria. Indeed, the new research suggests that doing so may be worse than useless—it could actually reduce the chances that immunotherapy will work.

“For this reason, we specifically recommend that people undergoing immunotherapy do not take probiotics unless they are specifically called for in a clinical trial,” says Jennifer McQuade, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.


Adolescents and young adults who acquire HIV around the time of birth are 13 times more likely to develop cancer and nine times more likely to die of any cause, according to research presented at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) last week in Amsterdam. The risk was linked to the nadir, or lowest-ever CD4 T-cell count and detectable viral load.

“Most youth with perinatally acquired HIV and a malignancy had a low nadir CD4 count and many years of sustained HIV viremia. It is hoped that early, sustained suppressive antiretroviral therapy will reduce the excess risk of malignancy in this cohort,” the researchers concluded.


Stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, are used to treat a number of blood cancers and other disorders. There are two types of stem cell transplants: autologous transplants, in which the transplanted cells are from the patient’s own body, and allogenic, in which the cells are from a donor. The type of transplant used depends on the disease that is being treated.

In a recent Facebook Live Q&A, Edwin Alyea, MD, associate director of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Stem Cell Transplant Program, and his patient, Don Lewis, explained the procedure—which involves transplanting healthy stem cells from one individual to another, or using an individual’s own stem cells.


Brain cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer, accounting for only 1 percent of new cancer diagnoses. More commonly, brain tumors arise because a patient’s cancer has metastasized, or spread, from other primary tumor(s).

The most common cancer in adults that originates in the brain is glioblastoma, which is characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation of glial cells, known as the “supporting cells” of the nervous system. Traditionally, metastatic brain tumors and brain cancer have been treated with surgery and radiation and/or chemotherapy, but researchers are investigating other therapies in the hopes of increasing survivorship and life expectancy.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week approved Kisqali (ribociclib) in combination with an aromatase inhibitor for first-line treatment of premenopausal and perimenopausal women with HR-positive/HER2-negative advanced breast cancer. It was also approved with Faslodex (fulvestrant) for postmenopausal women, either as initial treatment or after disease progression on hormone therapy.

This was the first drug to be approved using the FDA’s new Real-Time Oncology Review pilot program and Assessment Aid, with approval granted less than one month after submission of a supplemental New Drug Application.


First-line treatment with Tecentriq (atezolizumab) plus Alimta (pemetrexed) and platinum-based chemotherapy decreased the risk of disease progression or death in people with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), according to an announcement from Genentech.

Results from the Phase III IMpower132 trial showed that the study met one of its primary endpoints, meaning the Tecentriq combination performed significantly better than chemotherapy alone and the difference was probably not attributable to chance. These results have not yet been presented at a scientific conference or published in a medical journal.


Advances against multiple myeloma have come at an especially rapid pace, with 10 new therapies approved in just the last 10 years. The arrival of a new generation of immunotherapies is accelerating progress even more.

Today, a range of immunotherapies—treatments that marshal the immune system to attack cancer—is available to patients with myeloma. Some are available to certain patients as standard therapy; others are being tested in clinical trials.

As a group, their impact “is greater than anything we’ve seen in myeloma,” says Nikhil Munshi, MD, director of Basic and Correlative Science at Dana-Farber’s Jerome Lipper Center for Multiple Myeloma.


In immunotherapy, the CAR T cells that square off against cancerous tumors face quite the Goliath: billions of tumor cells that have recruited healthy cells to help them repel an immune attack. But scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have developed an inexpensive way to make tumors temporarily vulnerable. In recent work published in Cancer Research, the team used biodegradable liposome-based nanoparticles to carry immune-boosting drugs directly to solid tumors and open a window for CAR T cells to be more effective in preclinical models of breast and brain cancer.

The nanoparticles “are not supposed to replace conventional CAR T-cell therapy,” said Matthias Stephan, MD, PhD, who led the study. Instead, he envisions that “you could use these nanoparticles to precondition the patient, and precondition the tumor, so that your T cells work much better.”


Researchers have developed a new cutting-edge way to edit the genome of CD4 immune cells that is faster and more precise than currently used methods, The New York Times reports. While early research into this method has focused on manipulating immune cells to treat cancer or autoimmune disease, scientists believe it could be used to engineer HIV-resistant CD4 cells.

Currently, researchers in the gene-editing field commonly use a deactivated virus, known as a viral vector, to deliver genetic code into cells. In the HIV cure arena, scientists will, for example, draw stem cells that give rise to CD4 cells from an individual with the virus and use viral vectors to insert new genes into those cells that lack a key co-receptor on their surface to which HIV attaches in order to infect the cell. The scientists will then cultivate a large number of such stem cells, reinfuse them into the individual’s body and hope they flourish and populate the immune system with a long-lasting source of immune cells impervious to HIV’s assault.


A new method using CRISPR gene editing technology could allow scientists to create cancer-fighting T cells more easily, which could potentially increase their availability and reduce their cost, according to a study published this week in Nature.

“This is a rapid, flexible method that can be used to alter, enhance and reprogram T cells so we can give them the specificity we want to destroy cancer, recognize infections or tamp down the excessive immune response seen in autoimmune disease,” lead author Alex Marson, MD, PhD, of the University of California at San Francisco said in a UCSF press release.

Unlike traditional chemotherapy, which directly poisons cancer cells, immunotherapy helps the immune system recognize and fight cancer, usually by boosting the activity of T cells. One method uses a harmless virus to insert new genes into a patient’s T cells to make them express naturally occurring T-cell receptors (TCRs) that can recognize cancer antigens. Another technique, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T, uses a virus to insert artificial receptors that bind to cancer cells more readily than natural TCRs.


A year ago, Kelly Lamphere’s multiple myeloma was not responding to treatment, and her legs were so weakened by the cancer in her bones that she relied on a wheelchair and a walker. Today, because of CAR T-cell therapy, Lamphere’s disease is under control—and she can walk unaided again.

For most of 2017, Lamphere, 47, wasn’t sure how much time she had left. Her multiple myeloma, which for years had been stabilized by numerous chemotherapy regimens, along with a stem cell transplant in 2009, had begun outsmarting her treatment. Cancer built up in her bone marrow to the point where getting around was painful and tiring. While doctors near Lamphere’s home outside Syracuse, New York, sought other treatment possibilities, it was apparent to her she was running out of options.

Then, in August 2017, Lamphere received a phone call that changed everything.


In March 2014, Robert Johnson had already been told he’d run out of options for treatment of his stage IV adenocarcinoma non-small cell lung cancer. But a referral to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology connected him with an early immunotherapy clinical trial that sent him into remission—a remission that’s still holding more than 3 ½ years on.

Johnson’s medical journey started in March 2012, when the 56-year-old Long Island resident was recovering from hip replacement surgery. Searing pain in his right flank sent him to the emergency room, which he thought might be kidney stones. A CAT scan revealed otherwise: His lymph nodes under his ribs were enlarged. A biopsy determined that Johnson had stage 3B adenocarcinoma non-small cell lung cancer.


Cyramza (ramucirumab), a type of targeted therapy that slows tumor growth, led to improved overall survival and delayed disease progression in people with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), according to study results presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting last month in Chicago.

Second-line treatment with Cyramza extended the median survival by only about a month compared with placebo in the REACH-2 trial, but the proportion of patients who were still alive 18 months after starting therapy more than doubled, from about 11 percent to 25 percent.


First-line treatment with the checkpoint inhibitor Tecentriq (atezolizumab) plus chemotherapy reduced the risk of disease progression or death for women with metastatic or locally advanced triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), according to late-stage clinical trial results recently announced by Genentech, a Roche company.

Interim study data also showed an “encouraging” overall survival benefit for a subset of women with a favorable biomarker, the company said. These results have not yet been presented at a scientific conference or published in a medical journal.

The findings come from the IMpassion130 trial, a Phase III randomized, double-blind study evaluating the safety and efficacy of Tecentriq plus Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel), an albumin-bound formulation of the widely used chemotherapy drug, for patients with locally advanced or metastatic (spread beyond the breast) TNBC.


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