• The results of a clinical trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that Tebentafusp is the first drug to increase overall survival in metastatic uveal melanoma, highly aggressive cancer that causes death in 50% of cases in less than a year.
  • Dr. Josep Maria Piulats, head of the Immunotherapy in Cancer research group at IDIBELL, ICO, and CIBERONC, participate in the study.
  • The drug modulates the immune system to specifically recognize and attack tumor cells.

Like cutaneous melanomas, it is caused by the uncontrolled proliferation of melanocytes, the cells that colored the skin. But unlike these, uveal melanoma, which represents between 3 and 5% of melanomas, has molecular and cellular characteristics that make it especially aggressive. Half of the patients develop metastases, and when this occurs, the average life expectancy does not exceed one year. So far, none of the current treatments have been able to improve the prognosis.

A study published today in the prestigious scientific journal The New England Journal of Medicine, in which it has participated Dr Josep Maria Piulats from the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), and the Center Biomedical Research Network Cancer (CIBERONC), has presented the first drug that increases the total life expectancy of patients with uveal melanoma that have developed metastases.

The study, corresponding to a phase 3 clinical trial that evaluated the efficacy and safety of the new drug Tebentafusp, shows that the proposed treatment slows down the progression of the disease since the percentage of patients who survive more than one year goes from 58% with standard treatments to 73% with Tebentafusp. Dr Piulats, a coordinator of the Oncobell program at IDIBELL and ICO, highlights: “After completing this study and with the good results of survival of the almost 400 patients included in the trial, Tebentausp is already used in the clinical routine”.

Tebentafusp, an immune system guide to attack solid tumors

Tebentafusp guides the immune system towards the tumor. It is composed of two extremes: one recognizes tumor cells, and the other binds to cells of the immune system and activates them. In this way, the immune cells “see” the tumor and attack it.

The technology developed to generate Tebentafusp allows the immune system to specifically attack the tumor without recognizing it, -explains Dr Piulats-, this means that immune cells do not need specific membrane receptors to recognize tumor cells, the drug acts as a mediator to attack cancer”.

It is the first drug with these characteristics tested in solid tumors. In addition, as it is a drug that specifically recognizes tumor cells, it does not affect unwanted tissues, and therefore it has fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy. However, as Dr Piulats indicates: “The administration of this drug requires experience to identify the possible derived toxicities and act accordingly to avoid them.”

The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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