Immunotherapy: Hope for Merkel cell carcinoma patients

April 19, 2016


University of Washington

Publication Date

April 19, 2016


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive type of skin cancer. It is less common than melanoma, but patients are three times more likely to die from it.

Dr. Paul Nghiem, head of the Division of Dermatology, is leading a clinical trial of an immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab, where just over half of patients with advanced cancers saw their tumor shrink or disappear after receiving the immune-boosting drug.

Pembrolizumab acts by removing the “brakes” present on tumor-specific immune cells called T cells, thereby allowing the T cells to kill the cancer cells.

“We believe that the immune system is likely ‘seeing’ different targets in the virus-positive and virus-negative patients,” Nghiem said.

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