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June News

Immunotherapy’s Next Challenge


Virally Induced Cancers And The Promise Of Immunotherapy

Dr. Suzanne TopaliaSuzanne Topalian, M.D.

Worldwide, 20 percent of cancers are caused by viruses. That accounts for 2.8 million new cancers each year. Curing these “virally induced” cancers is a top priority of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

“Virus-linked cancers are good targets for immunotherapy because the immune system is very efficient at going after viruses,” says Suzanne Topalian, M.D., the Institute’s associate director and one of the world’s leading experts on immunotherapy as a treatment for virally induced cancers. “Our research gives us reason to believe that many [other] cancers expressing virus-linked proteins may be good responders as well.”

Viral Threats

5 Viruses and the Cancers They Cause

Epstein-Barr virus

Epstein-Barr Virus

  • All nasopharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer
  • Nearly half of Hodgkin lymphomas
  • 8 percent of stomach cancers

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

  • Virtually all cervical cancers
  • 90 percent of anal cancers
  • 70 percent of vulvar cancers
  • 65 percent of vaginal cancers
  • 60 percent of penile cancers
  • About 50 percent of cancers of the head and neck, tonsils and base of the tongue

Additionally, the number of head and neck cancers caused by HPV is increasing, and is expected to reach 90 percent in 20 years.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Hepatitis B and C Viruses

Hepatitis B and C viruses

  • About 80 percent of liver cancers

Although hepatitis C is a chronic infection of liver and largely curable with drugs, it can still result in liver cancer. Hepatitis C-targeted drugs are ineffective against cancer.

Merkel-Cell polyomavirus

  • About 80 percent of Merkel-cell carcinomas

Merkel-cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive skin cancer.

Merkle-Cell Polyomavirus

Life-Saving FDA Approval

BKI Leads in the Fight Against Merkel-Cell Carcinoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma

Merkle Cell Carcinoma

The Food and Drug Administration in December approved the anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint blocker pembrolizumab, known as Keytruda, as the initial treatment for people with advanced Merkel-cell carcinomas. A multi-center trial led by Suzanne Topalian, M.D., associate director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and other investigators at the Institute led to the FDA approval.

In the trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Oncology, more than half of the 50 patients treated with Keytruda had long-lasting responses. About one-quarter of patients saw their cancers completely disappear.

“These findings could be a precursor to developing more effective treatments for other virus-related cancers,” say William Sharfman, M.D., the Mary Jo Rogers Professor of Cancer Immunology and Melanoma Research at the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Keytruda also has helped patients with Hodgkin lymphoma whose cancer did not respond to standard treatment or returned after standard therapies. Nivolumab (Opdivo), another immunotherapy drug, has also been FDA-approved for some patients with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Ongoing Research

BKI's Wide-Ranging Breakthrough Impact Continues

Liver Cancer

  • Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy investigator Mark Yarchoan, M.D., has launched the first clinical trial of the use of an immune checkpoint inhibitor before surgery. The trial uses the anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab, or Opdivo, plus the thyroid and renal cancer therapy drug cabozantinib, to try to shrink liver cancer before surgery. The aim is to improve the chances of a successful and curative surgery. Dr. Yarchoan believes cabozantinib may make the tumor respond better to nivolumab while also helping eliminate micrometastases, microscopic cells that can seed the spread of cancer.

Mark Yarchoan, M.D.Mark Yarchoan, M.D.

May News

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