Immunotherapy is a new type of cancer treatment that is highly effective in cutaneous melanomas. It is also very effective in patients with acral melanomas. However, immunotherapy response rates in mucosal melanoma is overall less than cutaneous and acral melanoma, and mucosal melanomas are considered “cold” tumors with few immune cells surrounding them. We are taking multiple approaches to understand why they do not respond as well, and how we can improve responses:
- Signaling pathways underlying lack of immunotherapy response: Our preliminary data has highlighted one specific signaling pathway that is lost in mucosal melanomas, which may be an underlying reason for why they do not respond as well to immunotherapy. We are using small molecule inhibitors to re-activate this pathway in hopes of improving responses. Interestingly, this pathway is also lost in cutaneous melanomas that don’t respond, so this treatment could benefit patients with all subtypes of melanoma.
- Screening for drugs to improve immunotherapy response: Since we have developed a few cell lines from mucosal melanoma patients, we can use these cell lines to screen a large number of drugs and determine which drugs may have the potential to improve immunotherapy responses.