Immunotherapy, targeted drugs, brain cancer research among highlights at cancer meeting

The 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) drew about 30,000 cancer specialists to Chicago May 29 – June 2

June 05, 2015

Gordon Freeman, PhD

Discoveries by Dana-Farber’s Gordon Freeman, PhD, are uncovering cancer’s interactions with the immune system, leading to tests of potential new therapies for patients

Eagerly awaited new data from trials of immunotherapy drugs, vaccines to treat brain tumors, and improved treatments for blood cancers sparked waves of optimism at the year’s biggest cancer meeting.

The 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) drew about 30,000 cancer specialists to Chicago May 29 – June 2.

Immunotherapy, which uses drugs to block immune “checkpoints” such as PD-1 and PD-L1, allowing the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells, drew standing-room-only audiences as researchers reported updated results in studies of melanoma, lung cancer, and brain cancer.

Investigators from Dana-Farber and Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center reported on new treatments for diseases including melanoma, gastric cancer, brain cancer, and ovarian cancer, as well as new developments around adult psychosocial and pediatric issues.

Chemo and Genetic Damage

Results of a new study could reassure cancer survivors that their chemotherapy won’t lead to genetic damage in children they conceive later.

Eliezer Van Allen, MD, and Mary-Ellen Taplin, MD, of Dana-Farber led a study using whole-genome sequencing to look for signs of genetic damage in two male cancer survivors and their offspring. The men had been cured of testicular cancer with combination chemotherapy, and both had children that were conceived before and after their treatment.

Obtaining DNA from saliva samples of the survivors and their offspring, the researchers scanned their genomes for signs of mutations and other DNA abnormalities. Van Allen reported that there was no increase in such abnormalities in the DNA of children whose fathers had undergone chemotherapy.

Vaccines to Treat Brain Tumors
David A. Reardon, MD, clinical director of Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center’s Center for Neuro-Oncology, reported that an experimental vaccine combined with standard therapy continues to show an overall survival advantage in patients with glioblastoma whose tumors carry an EGFRvIII mutation.

Reardon is the lead investigator for the ReACT clinical trial and said the phase 2 results showed improved overall survival, long-term progression-free survival at six months, rate of tumor shrinkage, and reduced need for steroids.

“These data are compelling. They’re not a home run by any means, but they’re certainly a solid single, maybe even a double,” commented Reardon.

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