'Very promising': Melanoma vaccine trial underway in New Zealand

'Very promising': Melanoma vaccine trial underway in New Zealand

Just over two years ago, Lesley Hawes was shocked to learn she had melanoma on her face.

"I just thought well, I'm 75, you know, so be it, I've had a great life, I'm just going to enjoy what I've got left," Hawes said.

But after being chosen to take part in a trial for a personalised melanoma vaccine, Hawes now feels hope that she will get to see her grandchildren grow up.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with more than 6,000 diagnoses every year, and 300 deaths.

The world-first clinical trial is being conducted in a number of countries, including New Zealand. New Zealand's trial is underway in Auckland at Harbour Cancer.

Medical oncologist Gareth Rivalland described the treatment as "pushing that ambulance up the cliff".

"This trial is looking at people who have had their melanoma's removed, so you have to have either what we call a high-risk stage two melanoma, or a stage three melanoma and have been through surgery, and what we're trying to do is reduce the chance of this melanoma coming back."

The treatment uses a new technology called INT — Individualised Neoantigen Therapy.

By comparing the DNA of patients' healthy and cancerous tissue, doctors can find out which parts make them different.

That genetic information then becomes part of a personalised mRNA vaccine, which teaches the immune system to seek out, and kill the cancerous cells.

Rivalland said the early information for the clinical trial looks very promising.

"I think all of the melanoma oncologists around the world are really excited about the potential for this treatment, but the trial has to show that this treatment lives up to its promise."

The treatment is also being tested on other cancers, including lung and bladder.

"I can't express my gratitude enough for being here,” Hawes said.

Over the course of the trial, up to 40 New Zealanders could be involved. People who have recently had surgery for melanoma may be eligible.

Anyone interested in joining the trial should speak to their doctor about being referred, as Harbour Cancer cannot take self-referrals.

This news article originally appeared on 27 April 2024 on 1news.co.nz.

All Next