New Cancer Vaccine May Keep More Men From Dying Of Melanoma

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A new and improved vaccine may keep more men from dying of skin cancer. A new clinical trial has produced promising results that could revolutionize the treatment of melanoma, a notoriously aggressive form of skin cancer. Researchers from the University of Virginia say this trial, involving a novel multi-peptide vaccine, took significant strides toward prolonging survival rates among certain high-risk melanoma patients.

At the heart of this study, published in Nature Communications, is the understanding of the immune system’s complexities, particularly the roles of T cells. These immune cells are critical to our body’s defense against cancer. Traditional cancer vaccines have primarily focused on stimulating cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, which directly attack cancer cells.

However, this approach overlooks the supportive role of CD4+ helper T cells. These cells are crucial for organizing an effective immune response, aiding in the development of other immune cells, and providing the necessary signals for CD8+ T cells to function properly.

💡What To Know About Melanoma:

  • Skin cancer is the most common type of the disease in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Melanoma accounts for roughly 1% of skin cancers but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths.
  • Approximately 100,640 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2024.

The trial compared two vaccine formulations, each designed to target these vital components of the immune response. One vaccine focused on the conventional route, stimulating CD8+ T cells with a series of melanoma peptides. The other took a more innovative approach, combining the same CD8+ targeting peptides with additional peptides specifically designed to activate CD4+ helper T cells.

Over a span of nearly 15 years, researchers tracked the survival and disease recurrence among the participants. The results revealed that patients receiving the vaccine including CD4+ helper peptides exhibited notably longer survival rates. Interestingly, this survival benefit was mainly seen among male patients, hinting at underlying biological differences between men and women that could influence the effectiveness of immunotherapies.

Doctor looking at patient's mole for melanoma screening

Approximately 100,640 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2024. (© Evgeniy Kalinovskiy –

“These findings support the promise of this second-generation melanoma vaccine for prolonging survival of patients after surgery for high-risk melanoma,” says Craig L. Slingluff Jr., MD, a surgical oncologist and translational immunologist at UVA Health and the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in a media release. “We hope that we can make this available to patients in addition to other effective immune therapies so that they may have even greater benefit than either treatment alone.”

Another aspect of the study involved the use of cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug, before administering the vaccine. The idea was that cyclophosphamide might reduce the number of regulatory T cells, which often suppress immune responses against tumors, thereby enhancing the vaccine’s effectiveness. While the overall impact of cyclophosphamide remained subtle across the entire study population, a more detailed analysis revealed that it might significantly benefit specific groups, particularly when doctors combine the drug with the vaccine targeting both CD8+ and CD4+ T cells.

The implications of this study are profound. For one, it reinforces the idea that combating melanoma, and possibly other cancers, requires a multi-pronged strategy that activates the full spectrum of the body’s immune response. It also opens up avenues for combining vaccines with other cancer treatments, such as checkpoint inhibitors, which have already shown success in treating various forms of the disease.

The question now is why doesn’t this new cancer vaccine provide the same benefit for women.

“The differences in benefit based on age and biologic sex highlight the need to understand reasons for those differences so that we can provide the same benefit for all patients,” Slingluff concludes. “We are excited to build on these exciting findings.”

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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