Initial results from first international trial of immunotherapy show it may help some melanoma patients

October 16, 2000

Preliminary results from the first ever Phase III* trial of immunotherapy were reported at the conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Hamburg today (Monday 16 October). Dr. Ulrich Keilholz and colleagues from the EORTC** Melanoma Group have been looking at the effect of adding the immunotherapy protein interleukin-2 (IL-2) to conventional chemotherapy treatment in patients with advanced melanoma.

Immunotherapy is a new treatment area in a number of cancers, including advanced melanoma. It uses the body's own immune system to fight the cancer. The melanoma trial randomised 363 patients from nine centres across Europe*** into two groups. The first received chemotherapy and interferon alone, while the second had the same treatment plus IL-2.

First results showed no advantage with IL-2 in patients whose metastatic melanoma was sufficiently advanced to cause symptoms. However, "for those patients who had not yet developed symptoms from the spread of their cancer, the treatment may hold promise", said Dr. Keilholz, who works at the Free University of Berlin, Germany.

"We are hopeful that we will see a survival advantage for patients after a longer follow-up at the time of the next analysis of the study in 2001", he said.

Melanoma is the most serious cancer of the skin. In some parts of the world, especially in Western countries, the number of people who develop melanoma is increasing faster than any other cancer. In 1999 nearly 7500 EU citizens died from melanoma, which occurs when the skin's pigment cells become malignant, often after prolonged exposure to sunlight. Melanoma can occur on any skin surface.

Melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated when the tumour is thin and has not invaded the skin to any depth. But if it is not removed at an early stage, cancer cells may grow into the healthy tissue below the skin surface. When a melanoma spreads to other parts of the body it is difficult to control.
* A Phase III trial is the final stage in drug development, where a treatment is tested for efficacy on a large number of patients.

**European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer

*** Countries involved were Germany, The Netherlands, The UK, Switzerland and Belgium Note for editors: The European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) was founded in 1975 as a non profit-making society. It aims to advance the art, science and practice of medical oncology in order to maintain a common high standard in medical practice for cancer patients. Every two years it organises a conference in a different European city; in 1998 over 5000 delegates attended the conference in Athens. It has a current membership of more than 3000.

ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation

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