Nivolumab, an immunotherapy drug, has been described as a potential “game-changer” in promising results presented at the European Cancer Congress.
In a study of head and neck cancer, more patients taking the drug survived for longer compared with those who were treated with chemotherapy.
In another study, combining nivolumab with another drug shrank tumors in advanced kidney cancer patients.
Immunotherapy works by harnessing the immune system to destroy cancer cells.
Advanced head and neck cancer has very poor survival rates.
In a trial of more than 350 patients, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 36% treated with nivolumab (Opdivo) were alive after one year compared with 17% who received chemotherapy.
Patients also experienced fewer side effects from immunotherapy.
The benefits were more pronounced in patients whose tumors had tested positive for HPV (human papillomavirus). These patients survived an average of 9.1 months with nivolumab and 4.4 months with chemotherapy.
Normally, this group of patients are expected to live less than six months.
Early data from a study of 94 patients with advanced kidney cancer showed that the double hit of nivolumab and ipilimumab resulted in a significant reduction in the size of tumors in 40% of patients.
Of these patients, one in 10 had no sign of cancer remaining.
This compares with 5% of patients showing tumor reduction after standard therapy.
Nivolumab and ipilimumab both work by interrupting the chemical signals that cancers use to convince the immune system they are healthy tissue.
According to a new research, HIV can be flushed out of its hiding places in the body using PEP005 – one of the ingredients in a treatment to prevent cancer in sun-damaged skin.
The cornerstone of treatment, anti-retroviral therapy, kills the virus in the bloodstream but leaves “HIV reservoirs” untouched.
The study, published in PLoS Pathogens, showed PEP005 was “highly potent” at reactivating hidden HIV.
Experts said the findings were interesting, but it was important to know if PEP005 was safe in patients.
The power of the HIV reservoir was shown with the case of the Mississippi baby.
The baby girl was given antiretroviral drugs at birth. Despite appearing to be free of HIV for nearly two years after stopping treatment, she was found to be harboring the virus.
A strategy known as “kick and kill” is thought to be key to curing HIV – the kick would wake up the dormant HIV allowing the drugs to kill it.
The team at the Davis School of Medicine investigated PEP005. They tested the drug in cells grown in the laboratory and in parts of the immune system taken from 13 people with HIV.
The report said “PEP005 is highly potent in reactivating latent HIV” and that the chemical represents “a new group of lead compounds for combating HIV”.
One of the researchers, Dr, Satya Dandekar, said: “We are excited to have identified an outstanding candidate for HIV reactivation and eradication that is already approved and is being used in patients.
“This molecule has great potential to advance into translational and clinical studies.”
However, PEP005 has still not been tested in people who are HIV-positive.
Researchers have found that a genetically-engineered version of the cold sore virus (herpes simplex virus) could treat skin cancer.
T-Vec, the modified herpes virus, is harmless to normal cells but when injected into tumors it replicates and releases substances to help fight the cancer.
The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, show the therapy could lengthen survival by years – but only for some melanoma patients.
The treatment is not yet licensed.
Similar “immunotherapy” treatments for melanoma are already available in the US and in Europe, but researchers believe T-Vec would be a welcome addition to these.
It would also be the first melanoma treatment that uses a virus.
The latest study is the largest ever randomized trial of an anti-cancer virus and involved 436 patients from 64 centers in the US, the UK, Canada and South Africa who had inoperable malignant melanoma.
UK trial leader Prof Kevin Harrington, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “There is increasing excitement over the use of viral treatments like T-Vec for cancer, because they can launch a two-pronged attack on tumors – both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system against them.
“And because viral treatment can target cancer cells specifically, it tends to have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy or some of the other new immunotherapies.”
Although it has not yet been licensed, doctors are excited about the very real prospect of a brand new type of treatment for advanced melanoma – and, in the future, possibly other cancers too.
The idea of using viruses to enter and kill cancerous cells has been gathering scientific pace and kudos.
This latest study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology is the largest ever randomized trial of an anti-cancer virus and provides tantalizing evidence that the treatment concept could soon be moved into the clinic, after decades of work in the lab.
Researchers now want to do more studies to identify which patients might benefit from the treatment and whether it should be used alongside other melanoma drugs that are already approved.
Drug regulators will be watching closely and will soon make a final decision about T-Vec.
Damage to the skin by the sun’s harmful UV rays increases your risk of developing this cancer.
A discovery about how cells die could lead to ways to protect fertility in women having cancer treatment, researchers suggest.
Australian scientists found two specific proteins caused the death of early egg cells in the ovaries.
Blocking them meant cells survived the effects of radiotherapy, according to the study published in the journal Molecular Cell.
The researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Monash University and Prince Henry’s Institute of Medical Research looked at egg cells called primordial follicle oocytes, which provide each woman’s lifetime supply of eggs.
A discovery about how cells die could lead to ways to protect fertility in women having cancer treatment
They found that, when the DNA of cells is damaged through chemotherapy or radiotherapy, two proteins called Puma and Noxa cause the eggs to die.
This causes many female cancer patients to become infertile.
Low numbers of egg cells can also lead to a woman going through an early menopause.
When these cells were manipulated so they did not have the Puma protein, they did not die after being exposed to radiation therapy.
Prof. Jeff Kerr, from Monash University, who worked on the study said: “This might ordinarily be cause for concern because you want damaged egg cells to die so as not to produce abnormal offspring.”
But he added: “To our great surprise we found that not only did the cells survive being irradiated, they were able to repair the DNA damage they had sustained and could be ovulated and fertilized, producing healthy offspring.
“When the cells were also missing the Noxa protein, there was even better protection against radiation.”
Prof. Clare Scott, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, who also worked on the lab and animal research, added: “It means that in the future, medications that block the function of Puma could be used to stop the death of egg cells in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
“Our results suggest that this could maintain the fertility of these patients.”
The researchers said that the discovery could also mean it would be possible to slow the loss of egg cells from the ovaries, thereby delaying early menopause.