Clinical trial gives hope of new treatment for aggressive eye cancer

A potentially game-changing trial involving University of Liverpool researchers has shown how an immunotherapy drug can prolong the life of patients with an aggressive form of eye cancer.

The clinical research trial, taking place at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, has for the first time shown that a new treatment can improve survival rates in people with secondary uveal melanoma and also can shrink tumours in a small number of patients.

Uveal melanoma is the most common eye cancer in UK adults and many people can be successfully treated for it with the help of Clatterbridge’s world-leading proton beam therapy.

However, in about half of patients the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, usually the liver, and once this happens only around 50% of people survive for more than a year.

The 378-patient clinical trial – sponsored by biotechnology company Immunocore and organised with the help of the research team at Clatterbridge – has been using the immunotherapy drug tebentafusp, which helps the body to kill tumour cells. Tebentafusp is a bispecific fusion protein, which helps immune response cells get near enough to cancer cells to destroy them.

The research results have recently been published in US scientific publication The New England Journal of Medicine and the paper concludes that tebentafusp should now become the main way to treat this disease.

The results show that patients who used tebentafusp on average survived for 21.7 months, compared with 16 months in those given an alternative therapy. Also, 9% of patients taking tebentafusp saw their tumours reduce in size, compared with 5% of people being treated differently. Side effects of using the drug were shown to be manageable and severity also reduced as treatment went along.

Dr Joseph Sacco, from The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and University of Liverpool, who helped to lead the research, said: “The results of this clinical trial are a first, giving a strong indication that tebentafusp can make a big impact on lengthening the survival time for patients with the metastatic form of this eye cancer, for which there was previously no standard treatment.

“These findings validate the potential of using this drug in patients with uveal melanoma and it can make a very real difference to outcomes.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Clatterbridge and other sites around the world for working so hard on this clinical trial. These results make all that work very worthwhile.”

The newly established Liverpool Cancer Research Institute (LCRI), which functions as a translational research engine in which clinical themes provide a bi-directional conduit linking fundamental science, experimental medicine and clinical research. The LCRI encompasses all cancer research activity with the University of Liverpool and all translational research in Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. Find out more: