Our team based in Seattle conducted a comprehensive review including evolving trends in the management of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). This summary covers key decision points, including recommended work-up during initial diagnosis, treatment options for MCC when it’s in one place or has spread, management of recurrent MCC, and new treatments that are showing promise with fewer side effects and good results. This review gives valuable information on how to handle MCC overall and emphasizes new methods that are effective and less toxic on patients.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive skin cancer that typically requires the persistent expression of Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) oncoproteins that can serve as ideal immunotherapeutic targets. Several immune evasion mechanisms are active in MCC including down-regulation of HLA class-I expression on tumor cells and dysfunctional endogenous MCPyV-specific CD8 T cell responses. To overcome these obstacles, we combined local and systemic immune therapies in a 67-year-old man, who developed metastatic MCPyV-expressing MCC. Intralesional IFNβ-1b or targeted single-dose radiation was administered as a pre-conditioning strategy to reverse the down-regulation of HLA-I expression noted in his tumors and to facilitate the subsequent recognition of tumor cells by T cells. This was followed by the adoptive transfer of ex vivo expanded polyclonal, polyomavirus-specific T cells as a source of reactive antitumor immunity. The combined regimen was well-tolerated and led to persistent up-regulation of HLA-I expression in the tumor and a durable complete response in two of three metastatic lesions. Relative to historical controls, the patient experienced a prolonged period without development of additional distant metastases (535 days compared to historic median of 200 days, 95% confidence interval = 154-260 days). The transferred CD8(+) T cells preferentially accumulated in the tumor tissue, remained detectable and functional for >200 days, persisted with an effector phenotype, and exhibited evidence of recent in vivo activation and proliferation. The combination of local and systemic immune stimulatory therapies was well-tolerated and may be a promising approach to overcome immune evasion in virus-driven cancers.