First Human Trials for New Skin Cancer Therapy


A new treatment for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has just entered its first phase I study in humans. The exciting new treatment, which is actually an implantable vaccine, will be tested for its safety and tolerability in the human body during trials due to run any time now.

This is the latest in translational research, an area of science that tends to build up more complex hypotheses from very simple early ideas. The research has been undertaken at the Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

What makes this investigational product so interesting is its approach; most therapeutic cancer vaccines require the removal of an individual’s own immune cells, and then their reprogramming and reintroduction back into the body. This new approach involves the insertion of a disk-like sponge (about the size of a fingernail) made of FDA-approved polymers implanted under the skin. The disk is responsible for the recruitment and reprogramming of the patients own immune cells on site, instructing them to travel through the body and home in on the cancer cells. Once the immune cells have found the cancer cells, they will kill them.

The treatment has shown excellent results in the mouse model; in some case it has even managed to eliminate the cancer altogether. It is thought that with the right development, the treatment could also have applications in other tumour-forming cancers.

The trial has raised a few eyebrows due to the speed of it reaching phase I, but as the treatment has a brilliant toxicological record and such excellent results, it seems natural to measure its safety in human trials as soon as possible. The real steps forward will occur in phase II, which could be as soon as summer 2014 is all goes well with phase 1.

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Dividing melanoma cell image is provided courtesy of


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