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John Theurer Cancer Center Launches Clinical Trial of Personalized Cancer Vaccine Using New Gene-Based Technology for High-Risk Melanoma

John Theurer Cancer CenterOncology

What you need to know

John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) has launched a clinical trial for a personalized cancer vaccine that along with pembrolizumab immunotherapy will reduce the risk of relapse in patients after melanoma surgery.

JTCC is the only site in New Jersey and one of just 17 in the country participating in this multicenter international Phase II study.

More details about clinical trial

The hope is that the vaccine can prime a patient’s immune system to be more responsive to immunotherapy and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Utilizing a novel and potentially revolutionary gene-based technology, the vaccine is created by comparing the patient’s normal cell DNA sequence to that of their tumor and identifying tumor specific changes to the DNA. Once identified, the patient-specific, tumor-specific changes are turned into a messenger RNA construct to be used as a vaccine.

Pembrolizumab belongs to a class of drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors,” which have transformed the treatment of melanoma. It works by blocking a protein called PD-1 which normally shuts down the immune response. Cancer cells use PD-1 to hide from the immune system. Inhibiting PD-1 enables the immune system to find and kill cancer cells.

“Pembrolizumab and other checkpoint inhibitors have been shown to reduce disease recurrence among patients with high-risk melanoma that was surgically removed. However, in many patients, the cancer eventually comes back. Reducing the rate of relapse would address a significant unmet medical need for these patients.”

-Andrew L. Pecora, M.D., FACP, CPE, hematologist/oncologist at John Theurer Cancer Center and principle investigator (PI) of the study.

John Theurer Cancer Center was also a study site for the Phase I clinical trial of the vaccine, which was assessed alone and in combination with pembrolizumab in patients with a variety of solid tumors. The results, which were presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, were promising — showing that mRMA-4157 was well tolerated, provoked an immune response, and resulted in clinical responses when given with pembrolizumab.