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Keytruda can be an effective immunotherapy for advanced melanoma, but fewer than half of patients respond to it. Now a new combination therapy may be the accelerator researchers hoped to find.

When John Gilligan was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, he, his wife Carol Baker, and his doctors chose the SD 101 clinical trial as a first line treatment. 

John says, “The numbers for survival for metastatic melanoma have not been very good, so trying something experimental seemed like a good idea.” 

The trial combines the immunotherapy drug Keytruda with injections of SD 101 into tumors. SD 101 is a bacteria-like agent that changes the microenvironment so the immune system kills cancer cells more effectively. Oncologist Deborah Wong says it’s like a flare to get the process going. 

Dr. Wong, Asst. Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, explains, “Not only 
does this combination work to shrink the tumor that we’re injecting, but on scans, the tumors apart, far away from the ones we’re injecting, also shrank.” 

Nine study participants got immunotherapy for the first time. Seven of them had good responses, including two whose tumors disappeared. That’s a 78 percent response rate, nearly twice as good as Keytruda alone. The other 13 had had immunotherapy before and had modest or no response.

After six months, John’s tumors disappeared. He now gets just Keytruda, with few side effects.

John says, “I’ve managed to keep working and keep working out and being active and, you know, all of those things that help keep you optimistic.” 

UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center is now part of a trial testing SD 101 and Keytruda in patients with melanoma and neck cancer.