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North Shore Hospital Part of Int Melanoma Trial

North Shore Hospital Part of International Melanoma Trial

North Shore Hospital is the trial centre in New Zealand of an international melanoma research trial which uses immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy to treat patients.

Clinical trial co-ordinator Lorraine Neave, who is a research nurse specialist at the hospital, says a Melanoma and Pigmented Lesion Clinic was established at North Shore Hospital in August 2003.

The trial, which started around the same time, evaluates the effectiveness of a cancer vaccination, Canvaxin, in increasing the overall time of survival in patients with advanced stage III or stage IV melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes or glands.

This type of drug-free treatment known as immunotherapy works by stimulating the patient’s natural immune system. The patient is also given two BCG injections within the first two weeks of the trial. BCG is an inactive strain of tuberculosis bacterium that acts as a general immune system stimulant.

Ms Neave says early trials have shown immunotherapy may be more effective than chemotherapy in increasing patients overall survival rates.

“However, it works in some people and not in others. We’re not sure why at this stage and that’s why ongoing trials are crucial.”
Consultant Medical Oncologist Mike McCrystal, who is Principal Investigator for the trial, says the patient receives either the vaccine or a placebo. MORE…

Neither the physician or patient knows which one is being administered.

“Patient progress is followed closely over five years; they remain under the care of their primary care physician or surgeon and receive only trial-related treatment and care at North Shore Hospital.”

Patients can be taken off the trial at any stage if other treatments are required.

Dr McCrystal says patients must meet relatively strict criteria to be eligible for the trial.

“Patients must be disease free at the time of starting the trial and no more than 90 days out from their surgery to be eligible.”

The trial involves 76 other sites around the world and for the past four years New Zealand patients eligible for the trial had to travel to Sydney for treatment.

Lorraine Neave says having a trial centre in New Zealand gives patients here more options to be treated closer to home: “We’ve already had one patient transfer back to carry on follow-up here.”

Worldwide 1118 patients with stage III melanoma are required for the trial, while 670 stage IV patients are required. More than half of those numbers have been accrued.

“At this stage we are asking GPs and specialists to refer patients they think would be eligible, although if people contact us directly we are happy to talk to them about the trial and refer them to the Cancervax website –”

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