Immunotherapy Drug Shrinks Tumors in Half of Patients with Rare, Virus-Linked Skin Cancer

April 19, 2016


Johns Hopkins Medicine

Publication Date

April 19, 2016


In a clinical trial of the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, half of 25 patients with a rare type of virus-linked skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma experienced substantial tumor shrinkage lasting nearly three times as long, on average, than with conventional chemotherapy. Several patients had no remaining evidence of disease. Results of the study are expected to be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2016 (abstract CT096) in New Orleans and published online April 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, who led the study, say the results could be a harbinger of how some patients with other virus-associated cancers, which account for more than 20 percent of cancers worldwide, may respond to an entire class of immunotherapy drugs called immune checkpoint blockers or inhibitors.

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