Posted: November 11, 2012

For over fifteen years there have been data to suggest that people with high-risk melanoma given high-dose interferon do better and have a lower death rate. Oncologists have quibbled about this for the entire time.  About seven years ago a kinder gentler interferon was developed that it self-administered under the skin once a week and has fewer side effects than original interferon.  After the original interferon clinical trials were mature, investigators in Europe tried this new interferon to see whether the modest benefits of the original drug could be maintained.  In the November 2012 Journal of Clinical Oncology the investigators present their mature data and the answer in a nutshell is NO.  Results were not as robust as in the original trial and only a small subset of patients seemed to be helped.  See an abstract of this article (the entire article is reserved for subscribers to the JCO) here .  So it’s back to the drawing board.  Dr. Stark has written in the past in the journal CANCER about his experience using interferon plus chemotherapy in the treatment of metastatic melanoma.  In a widely read paper, he found that interferon added toxicity but not much else.  Newer clinical trials are making use of the unique genetic properties of some melanoma tumor as researchers try to exploit the differences between the genome of melanoma and normal cells to develop targeted treatments that will kill only the melanomas.  This disease has been uniquely resistant to the efforts of Oncologists for the last forty years; perhaps with the development of so-called targeted therapy that will begin to change.

Update 2020: with new use of new targeted therapy interferon has been supplanted by newer approaches.   Checkpoint inhibition with nivolumab has been shown superior to interferon across all tumor types.  Similar results have been obtained with pembrolizumab.   For patients with the BRAF v600 mutation therapy targeted to that mutation have been effective.   Many authorities recommend checkpoint inhibition even in these patients because of better tolerance.