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ASCO Meeting Day 4: Risks And Rewards Of Immunotherapy

Erika Janowicz

The 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) took place in Chicago, Illinois, with meetings and presentations from May 30 to June 3.

At this year's 50th Annual Meeting, more than 25,000 cancer specialists gathered to discuss research on the theme of "Science and Society."

On Monday, presentations on immunotherapy in treating melanoma and cervical cancer were reviewed at the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Risks and Rewards of Immunotherapy

A study presented at the conference showed that the treatment of Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY) ipilimumab (Yervoy) after surgery for patients with melanoma greatly reduced the recurrence for Stage III melanoma despite serious side effects. The results found suggested that ipilimumab reduced the risk of recurrence by 25 percent, compared with a placebo.

Despite statistically significant success, 52 percent of individuals treated with ipilimumab stopped within 12 to 16 weeks due to serious side effects. Side effects included rash and inflammation of the colon, pituitary gland and thyroid. The study reported five treatment-related deaths.

In balancing the risks and rewards related with ipilimumab, a large Phase I study of Merck's (NYSE: MRK) MK-3475 drug suggests early promising results for the treatment of melanoma that has spread. The results showed that MK-3475 provided a benefit to patients, regardless of numerous factors, including prior treatment with ipilimumab.

For individuals whose tumors responded well to MK-3475, 88 percent of patients did not see a worsening in the disease after one year; eight percent of patients had serious side effects from the drug; four percent had to end treatment due to adverse effects.

Patients with advanced melanoma were found to greatly benefit from the combination of Bristol-Myers immunotherapies ipilimumab and nivolumab. For patients with stage III of IV melanoma that could not be removed with surgery, the combination treatment of ipilimumab and nivolumab proved effective in shrinking the cancer. Forty-two percent of participants in the study had the tumors shrink by more than 80 percent, with 17 percent experiencing full remission.

The results showed that the side effects from the combination were higher than the effects from taking the treatments individually.

In an early study on immunotherapy for advanced cervical cancer, the National Cancer Institute presented new and promising treatments. In using adoptive T-cell therapy to aid the body's defenses against HPV, the intravenous injection of cells has proven very effective.

In a study of just nine women, two had no signs of cancer after the treatment. Both women have been in complete remission for 11 and 18 months, respectively.

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