June 13th, 2011

Addition of Experimental Vaccine to IL-2 Improves Melanoma Outcomes


Among patients with advanced melanoma, the addition of an experimental anticancer vaccine to treatment with interleukin-2 (IL-2) improved response rates and progression-free survival. These results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Of the more than one million new diagnoses of skin cancer each year, roughly 68,000 involve melanoma. More than 8,000 people die of melanoma each year in the United States. What makes melanoma so dangerous is that it is more likely than other types of skin cancer to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body. The first signs of melanoma may be a mole that changes in appearance, bleeds, or has more than one color or an irregular shape.

Treatment of advanced melanoma is challenging, and researchers continue to search for new and more-effective approaches. In the current study, researchers evaluated an experimental anticancer vaccine known as gp100:209-217(210M) peptide.[1] The vaccine acts by stimulating T cells (a type of white blood cell) to attack melanoma cells.

The study enrolled 185 patients with Stage IV or locally advanced Stage III melanoma. Study participants were assigned to receive treatment with IL-2 (an immune activating agent) alone or in combination with the vaccine.

  • Tumor shrinkage occurred in 16% of patients treated with IL-2 plus the vaccine compared with 6% of patients treated with IL-2 alone.
  • Survival without cancer progression was 2.2 months among patients treated with IL-2 plus the vaccine compared with 1.6 months among patients treated with IL-2 alone.
  • Overall survival was17.8 months among patients treated with IL-2 plus the vaccine compared with 11.1 months among patients treated with IL-2 alone. The difference between groups in overall survival did not meet the criteria for statistical significance, suggesting that it could have occurred by chance alone.

This study suggests that the addition of the gp100 peptide vaccine to IL-2 improves response rates and delays melanoma progression.

In a study published in 2010, the addition of a gp100 vaccine to Yervoy™ (ipilimumab) did not result in better outcomes than Yervoy alone.[2] The researchers of the current study note “It is not clear why we observed an improved response when we combined the gp100 vaccine with interleukin-2, whereas this was not seen when a similar vaccine was combined with ipilimumab.” Research on how best to use new and investigational melanoma drugs continues.


[1] Schwartzentruber DJ, Lawson DH, Richards JM et al. gp100 peptide vaccine and interleukin-2 in patients with advanced melanoma. New England Journal of Medicine;2011;364:2119-27.

[2] Hodi FS, O’Day SJ, McDermott DF et al. Improved survival with ipilimumab in patients with metastatic melanoma. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363:711-23.

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Tags: Melanoma, News, Stage III Melanoma, Stage IV Melanoma, Uncategorized