Timed therapy for cancer
Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. In Australia about 30 people are diagnosed with melanoma each day and 1 person dies every 6 hours from melanoma. Although there are several promising newer drug therapies for patients suffering advanced melanoma, there has been little progress in "curing" or increasing long-term survival for melanoma patients. Sadly, most of the current treatments, both old and new, carry with them the likelihood of unwanted and often serious side effects (sometimes including drug-induced death), that can significantly impact upon quality of life. They also often come at a tremendous price, both personal and for governments/ taxpayers. There remains an urgent need for new, cheaper, more effective, less toxic therapies. Our study is investigating a side-effect free treatment in the form of a vaccine, which when given repeatedly appears to prompt the patient's own immune system to attack the melanoma. We are also investigating the preliminary findings that this treatment can be made even more effective if given at certain times. This principle is likely to apply to other therapies as well. It has been shown that each individual's immune system is continually going through a repeated cycle; similar to accelerating then braking, accelerating then braking. It would appear that repeatedly giving the vaccine at the same time in this cycle, or in the "sweet spot" increases its effectiveness, by pushing the immune system in the right direction at the right 'time' to increase its disease fighting potential. The study team are looking to prove those findings by comparing patients receiving the vaccine according to a regular schedule against those who are receiving it "timed" to their individual immune system's cycles.
What we aim to achieve
If this study is successful in proving the timing theory, the impact and potential for translation will be huge. It is anticipated that a smaller number of advanced melanoma patients will succumb to their disease, and we also anticipate that there will be an increase in the length of time that melanoma patients remain disease free. This theory may also be applicable to other cancers and there will be significantly increased response and long term survival rates for "cancer" in general. This research will increase the potential for greater numbers of patients to receive a non-toxic treatment, thereby lessening the number of people affected by significant side-effects and their costs. This research also has the potential for reducing the need for toxic treatments, thereby lessening the impact with enormous cost savings to the patient and the healthcare system.
Our next steps and milestones
At this stage, the priority is to continue to recruit patients in order to complete the study. However, this is a small scale pilot trial and its results will need to ultimately be re-tested on a much larger cohort of patients.
What motivates me
Cancer remains an unsolved mystery after over half a century of very intensive research and extraordinary funding levels internationally - so why is this? Is the answer right in front of us and so simple that we have not been able to see it because of the ways we have been thinking about and approaching cancer?
The immune system has protected us from almost every insult upon our cells along the evolutionary survival pathway, allowing survival of almost all species on earth. It is these basic observations that inspire my interest and resolve to determine the means to cure cancer immunologically. I suspect that from this understanding, common mechanisms will exist for other chronic inflammatory disorders and also lead to their successful therapy.
My message to supporters
Small scale, non- 'drug company sponsored' research is tremendously difficult and with limited resources, the task is at times very challenging. The funding and support received from Cancer Council SA donors and others has enabled the timing theory to progress to trial stage, and has funded the small team that is working to give hope to advanced melanoma (and cancer) patients. It is highly likely that this effort will succeed, and the generosity of the public will have strongly assisted it to get there. Historically, most of the major international paradigm-changing discoveries have come from very small groups initially with limited funding.