Drug Combo Could Boost Immunotherapy for Skin Cancer, But Side Effects Need to Get Worked Out

Drug Combo Could Boost Immunotherapy for Skin Cancer, But Side Effects Need to Get Worked Out

A Vienna cancer center has been experimenting with a mixture of skin cancer treatments in order to improve immunotherapy drugs for malignant melanoma. Their results are promising, but concerns about side effects are prompting more work into reducing the quality-of-life problems currently being seen.

In Brief: Cancer Treatment Types

Cancer treatments tend to fall into one of four broad types: resection, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy. Resection is the surgical removal of a tumor. Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals to attack cancer cells. Radiation therapy is when targeted radiation is used to kill tumor cells. Immunotherapy is when drugs are used to either bolster or direct the body’s defenses against the tumor, or otherwise make the tumor more vulnerable to the immune system.

The Vienna Treatment

Around 1,500 Austrians develop invasive (malignant) melanoma each year. Recently, immunotherapy has developed to the point where its success rate has started exceeding that of conventional chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this success still only has 50% of patients still being alive after three years. While great for the people who didn’t die, a 50% success rate is clearly not great.

This led to a June 2016 finding that the use of two immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs could help improve the success rate of immunotherapy. However, this had a significant impact on patient’s quality-of-life. The side effects included severe fatigue, diarrhea, and skin rashes. Since a big part of cancer treatment is helping patients maintain their quality-of-life for as long as possible, these present hurdles have to be cleared.

In order to start reigning in the side effects, the researchers have begun trials that test different methods of curbing the effects of the drugs. One method being tested involves combining an antibody for one of the immune receptors with a modified virus, in order to selectively target T-cells.


“Skin cancer: drug combination could improve immunotherapy,” Medical University of Vienna web site, September 27, 2016; https://www.meduniwien.ac.at/web/en/about-us/news/detailseite/2016/news-september-2016/hautkrebs-wirkstoffkombination-koennte-immuntherapie-verbessern/, last accessed September 27, 2016.