News in brief: Cancer patients not accessing COVID-19 vaccines; Oncology researchers bag $24 million in Snow Foundation grants; Trial CONFIRMs nivolumab’s efficacy in relapsed malignant mesothelioma


Cancer patients not accessing COVID-19 vaccines

Melbourne-based oncologists have highlighted the need for robust communication strategies around COVID-19 vaccination after finding many of their patients struggled to access the vaccine despite having priority in the initial rollout.

While recruiting for an observational trial of serologic and immunologic responses to COVID-19 vaccinations in cancer patients, Dr Amy Body and her colleagues found at least 70 patients hadn’t received their first vaccine by July 2021.

At follow-up, four had booked their first dose, three of 10 planning to make their first booking asked for help, 56 asked for help upfront.

Concerningly, three were advised by their surgeon, radiation oncologist and GP respectively, to delay vaccination until after their treatments, contrary to guidelines at the time.

Six who verbally agreed to proceed later declined due to vaccine hesitancy and five patients over 60 said they’d only accept an mRNA vaccine.

“An unexpected benefit of the SerOzNET study is that we are able to reassure patients of the strong recommendation for vaccination in patients on active cancer treatment, and to assist vulnerable patients navigating the complex vaccine booking system,” Dr Body and her colleagues wrote in the Internal Medicine Journal.

They said the findings highlighted the need for a “robust” education and communication strategy around vaccine recommendations and safety “to ensure optimal vaccine use among vulnerable populations”.


Oncology researchers bag $24 million in Snow Foundation grants

The Snow Medical Research Foundation is set to inject $24 million into cancer research over the next eight years, under its 2021 Fellowships.

Physician researcher Dr Shom Goel, along with researchers, Dr Melanie Eckersley Maslin and Associate Professor Marina Pajic have each earned $8 million in funding, which is an “unprecedented” level of funding for Australian scientists, Dr Goel said in a statement.

Based at the University of Melbourne and Peter MacCallum Centre, Dr Goel will study chemo- and radiation therapy-induced senescence in cancer, while Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre group leader Dr Eckersley Maslin will investigate epigenetic plasticity in development and cancer and Garvan Institute of Medical Research laboratory head Associate Professor Pajic will look into precision medicine for pancreatic cancer.

A phase 3 clinical trial has confirmed nivolumab monotherapy can offer significant survival benefits to relapsed malignant mesothelioma patients.


Trial CONFIRMs nivolumab’s efficacy in relapsed malignant mesothelioma

The CheckpOiNt Blockade For the Inhibition of Relapsed Mesothelioma (CONFIRM) trial assessed nivolumab’s efficacy in 332 relapsed malignant mesothelioma patients who previously received platinum based-therapy.

It showed the 240 mg IV dose administered every two weeks for up to 12 months or until disease progression extended median progression-free survival from from 1.8 months on placebo to 3.0 months (adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 0.67, 95% CI: 0.53–0.85, P = 0.0012) and overall survival from 6.9 months on placebo to 10.2 months (adjusted HR: 0.69, 95% CI: 0.52–0.91, 0.0090).

The authors reported an “acceptable level of safety and tolerability”, with diarrhoea (3% vs 2%) and infusion-related reactions (3% vs none) being the most-frequently reported grade 3 treatment-related adverse events between nivolumab and placebo and serious adverse events occurring in 41% of nivolumab patients versus 44%. No treatment-related deaths were seen in either group.

Nivolumab, in combination with ipilimumab, is already approved for use in first-line mesothelioma treatment in Australia and PBS listed for unresectable malignant mesothelioma, with monotherapy subsidised when patients have a severe intolerance to ipilimumab, National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases Director Professor Anna Nowak, who was not involved in the study, told the limbic.

The full study is available in Lancet Oncology.

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