As the U.S. observes Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May, a report published in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings has some sobering news for young adults: The incidence of melanoma increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men from 1970 through 2009.
And, according to the May 11 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, age-adjusted incidence rates of melanoma have increased in recent years; although protective behaviors such as sunscreen use, shade use, and wearing long clothing to the ankles have increased, sunburn prevalence remains high, with 50 percent of all adults reporting at least one sunburn in the past 12 months.
“These numbers illustrate the dire need for novel treatments for melanoma, which is commonly believed to be the most harmful form of skin cancer,” says Punit Dhillon, CEO of San Diego-based OncoSec Medical Inc., a company developing its advanced-stage OncoSec Medical System™ (OMS) ElectroOncology therapies to treat solid tumors.
OncoSec’s ElectroOncology treatment consists of two main components: The first is an agent capable of selectively killing cancerous cells or stimulating the immune system to kill cancerous cells; the second is a novel delivery system for the agent.
Most drugs and all genes must enter into a cell in order to perform their intended function. Finding a safe and effective method of delivering potentially useful agents into cells has been a persistent challenge for researchers and physicians. OncoSec’s proprietary delivery system directly addresses this challenge.
It accomplishes this by harnessing a scientific phenomenon known as electroporation. By applying a brief electric field to the surface of the tumor—delivered via a six-pronged electrode at the end of a handheld applicator—pores temporarily open on the surface of the cancer cells, allowing an immunotherapy agent, DNA IL-12, to be absorbed more quickly and get to work by boosting the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Currently, three Phase II clinical trials to test OncoSec’s technology are underway, not only in metastatic melanoma but also in Merkel cell carcinoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. There are currently few, if any, treatment options for these cancers. The clinical trials are being conducted at distinguished academic institutions. The University of California San Francisco (USSF) is hosting trials for T-cell lymphoma and melanoma, while the University of Washington in Seattle is hosting a trial for Merkel cell carcinoma. The UCSF melanoma trial is enrolling approximately 25 patients with advanced-stage cutaneous, in-transit malignant melanoma; the lymphoma trial at the same site is enrolling approximately 27 patients. Meanwhile, the Washington trial is enrolling approximately 15 patients with Merkel cell carcinoma.
“Despite the best prevention efforts, melanoma continues to be a life-threatening, difficult-to-treat cancer,” says Mr. Dhillon. “During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we encourage those suffering from melanoma and other forms of skin cancer to talk to a doctor about the possibility of enrolling in a nearby clinical trial.”