News Release

UC San Diego Health first in region to provide novel therapy for melanoma

New FDA approved treatment increases a patient’s own army of cancer-fighting cells aimed to combat the most serious type of skin cancer

Business Announcement

University of California - San Diego

UC San Diego Health is the first hospital system in the region to offer a new immunotherapy treatment for metastatic melanoma. The personalized cellular therapy derived from tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), is the first solid tumor therapy on the market approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

“This one-time cellular immunotherapy is a powerful and robust tool to treat patients with advanced melanoma resistant to other approved therapies and who have limited treatment options,” said Gregory Daniels, MD, PhD, professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health.

“Our ability to provide novel therapies, like TIL, reflects our distinction as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center," said Diane Simeone, MD, director of Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health. "None of this would be possible without the extraordinary team who led the clinical trials and brought this new, advanced treatment option for melanoma.”

The process of TIL therapy using lifileucel (AMTAGVI), begins by collecting and isolating a patient’s unique cancer-fighting white blood cells, called lymphocytes, or T-cells, from the surgically removed tumor. The T-cells are isolated, expanded and stimulated to enhance their ability to recognize, infiltrate and attack cancer cells. This army of TIL cells is then infused back into the patient. 

“The TIL clinical trials showed favorable treatment results and improved outcomes compared to other options available following the progression of melanoma on standard frontline therapy,” said Daniels, principal investigator of the clinical trials conducted at UC San Diego Health.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with melanoma accounting for nearly 1% of skin cancers but causing the most skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma deaths have fallen by 5% per year largely because of supported research and clinical advancements in treatment.

“The ability to provide cellular therapy holds the potential for remission for some patients with melanoma and provides a new tool to the growing number of options for patients whose cancer cells have spread from where they started to other parts of the body,” said Daniels.

UC San Diego Health currently offers CAR T-cell therapy, another promising type of immunotherapy, to treat certain types of blood cancer, such as non-Hodgkin lymphomas and multiple myeloma.

“This emerging treatment is a driving force to many other cellular and gene therapies being pioneered at UC San Diego Health,” said Ayad Hamdan, MD, physician-in-chief at Moores Cancer Center. “This transformational approach to treating skin cancer and solid tumors directly aligns with our health system’s commitment and investment in the future of cancer immunotherapy. It’s a tremendous opportunity to expand our reach and deliver leading-edge treatment to patients with advanced cancers that are underserved by current treatment modalities.”

As an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health is among the top 4% of approximately 1,500 cancer centers in the United States, and one of only 56 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation. Patients have access to personalized care by physicians setting treatment standards nationwide and access to clinical trials that are identifying promising, new therapy options. According to the 2023-2024 U.S. News & World Report "Best Hospitals" survey, cancer services at UC San Diego Health ranked 20th in the nation.

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