Why Does a New Class of Drugs Work So Well for Melanoma Patients?

Recent clinical trials for patients with advanced melanoma have found that a new class of drugs – anti-PD-1 antibodies – can elicit an unprecedented response rate. In the last year, the FDA has approved two anti-PD-1 antibodies, nivolumab and pembrolizumab, for patients with advanced melanoma who are no longer responding to other drugs and there’s growing evidence that this class of drugs may be effective in treating other forms of cancer. Anti-PD-1 antibodies are known to “wake up” immune cells that can attack cancer and have been hailed as one of the first cancer immunotherapy success stories. But Tobias Schatton, PhD, of BWH’s Department of Dermatology and his colleagues at BWH, Boston Children’s Hospital and elsewhere wondered if this might not be the whole story: in addition to interacting with cells in the immune system, could the antibodies be interacting with other kinds of cells to fight cancer?