Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

New clinical trial for liver cancer patients at Sylvester


Hepatocellular cancer cells under a microscope.

A new clinical trial for hepatocellular cancer, the most common form of liver cancer in the U.S., was recently launched at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. The Phase II trial, led by Sylvester liver cancer specialist Lynn G. Feun, M.D., seeks to enroll hepatocellular cancer patients who have advanced, unresectable disease. As part of the trial, patients will receive the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, which has already been approved by the FDA for use in metastatic melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer patients.

“Pembrolizumab encourages the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer cell and cause apoptosis – programmed, intentional cell death,” said Feun, who is also professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We call this type of drug a ‘checkpoint inhibitor’ because the body needs to activate or deactivate certain molecules on immune cells – called ‘checkpoints’ – in order to start an immune response. Cancer cells, however, find ways to alter these checkpoints to avoid being attacked by the immune system. Pembrolizumab works to reverse this process and allow for a proper immune response in the cancer cell.”

Hepatocellular carcinoma affects more than 35,000 people in the U.S. each year. The incidence of liver cancer has more than tripled since 1980 and occurs mostly in men older than 50 years of age. In Florida, Miami-Dade has more liver cancer cases each year than any other county in the state.

“Sylvester is the first and only cancer center selected to conduct this trial. We were chosen over other major cancer centers in the U.S. and the world,” said Feun. “We’re excited to be able to offer hope to liver cancer patients, using a drug that has already shown promise in other types of advanced cancer.”

Feun and his team hope to enroll 28 patients with advanced hepatocellular cancer over the next few months and the trial will be under way for a couple of years. For more information about the trial, please call 305-243-6606.

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