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September 14, 1995


UPMC tests vaccine on patients with melanoma

In a University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) study, investigators are vaccinating people with advanced cases of the deadly skin cancer melanoma using molecules that are overexpressed in melanoma cells.

Unlike a vaccine that is given to prevent disease or the recurrence of cancer, this vaccine is being used against established cancer in the hope that it will stimulate the patient's immune system to better detect and kill melanoma cells.

"Melanoma is one of the few cancers known to be immunogenic, meaning that its cells bear molecular markers that are well recognized by cells of the immune system. In this trial, we hope to capitalize on this recognition and strengthen it," said Walter Storkus, laboratory principal investigator of the study and associate professor in Pitt's departments of surgery and molecular genetics and biochemistry.

John Kirkwood, who is a clinical co-principal investigator of the study, professor of medicine and chief of medical oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and director of UPCI's Melanoma Center, said: "This trial differs from the vast majority of other vaccine trials for melanoma because we are vaccinating individuals with part of a specific melanoma protein, or peptide, rather than with whole melanoma cells. This precision will allow us to learn which of these marker peptides best triggers an immune response against the disease." This year an estimated 34,000 people will develop melanoma in the United States and 7,000 will die from the disease. No therapy has been documented that significantly prolongs survival, according to the investigators.


Grant made for development of new drugs

The National Cancer Institute has granted $2.5 million to Pitt researchers to develop a class of promising new anti-cancer drugs.

This National Cooperative Drug Discovery Grant is one of only four awarded this year in the United States. It will enable Pitt investigators to develop drugs that selectively inhibit ras, a gene that in its mutant form is estimated to account for more than 30 percent of all human cancers.

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