ASCO Preview: Game Changing Breakthrough for Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

James Radke

Plenty of transformational data regarding rare cancers will be presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting.
Among the presentations, one from researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington led by Kelly Paulson, MD, will show the benefit of the recently approved Bavencio (avelumab) to treat Merkel cell carcinoma in combination with T-cell therapy and radiation therapy or interferon.
The study involved only 4 patients receiving the triple therapy, but the results are noteworthy. Of the 4 patients, 3 are in complete remission and the 4th has shown some responsiveness.
Contrastly, in a group of 4 patients given T-cell therapy and radiation therapy or interferon (i.e., no avelumab), only 1 had a complete response.
The data will be presented Monday, June 5 at the ASCO meeting but a recent news release noted that the abstract has already received 2 awards: the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Merit Award and the Washington State Medical Oncology Society Fellowship Grant for Research.
The use of T-cell therapy for Merkel cell carcinomas is ideal since the cancer is caused by a virus (Merkel cell polyomavirus), and most patients with this rare cancer have a high level of one of the virus’ proteins present specifically in their tumors, making it the ideal target for T-cell therapy.


Paulson KG, Perdicchio M, Kulikauskas R, etl al. Augmentation of adoptive T-cell therapy for Merkel cell carcinoma with avelumab. J Clin Oncol 2017; 35: (suppl; abstr 3044).
Image of Dr Kelly Pauson by Robert Hood of Fred Hutch news Service.
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