BACKGROUND: The development of effective adjuvant therapies for the treatment of high-risk melanoma patients is critical for the prevention of metastatic disease and improvement of patient survival. Active specific immunotherapy has been tested as an adjuvant treatment in numerous clinical trials with overall limited, but occasionally promising, success rates. Newcastle disease virus (NDV) oncolysate has been utilized as an adjunctive immunotherapeutic agent in the postsurgical management of these patients. A phase II study initiated in 1975 using adjuvant vaccine therapy composed of allogeneic and autologous human melanoma cells infected with live NDV (NDV oncolysate) in patients with AJCC stage III melanoma following therapeutic lymph node dissection has shown >60% survival rate at 10 years with no adverse effects. Continued long-term analysis of trials with promising early results as well as assessment of immunologic responses generated in these patients may result in improved therapeutic decisions for clinical trials in the future.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: We analyzed the 15-year survival of patients treated postsurgically with NDV oncolysate in the phase II study described above. In an attempt to understand the immunological effects of this treatment, we have also carried out a comprehensive analysis of the peripheral blood T cell repertoire in these patients.
RESULTS: The overall 15-year survival of this group of patients is 55%. Previous studies have suggested that improved outcome in patients undergoing immunotherapy is correlated with increased numbers of CD8(+)CD57(+) cells. In surviving patients, we observed a striking oligoclonality in the CD8(+) T cell population in peripheral blood, which reflects clonal expansions in the CD8(+)CD57(+) subset.
CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest that adjuvant vaccination with NDV oncolysates is associated with prolonged survival of patients with lymph node-positive malignant melanoma and that CD8(+) T cells may be an important component of therapeutic efficacy.