When a Rash Is Not a Rash: Recognizing Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – It’s not uncommon to develop a dry patch, little bumps or even a rash on the skin, especially as the seasons change. Sometimes dry weather precipitates excessive scaly patches, and at times an allergic reaction can manifest itself as red or itchy skin. But what happens when these irritations persist long after the season settles in, antihistamines are taken and plenty of topical extra-strength lotion has been applied?

For those who are diagnosed with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), this scenario is all too familiar. According to an article in the summer 2015 issue of Stanford Medicine, the medical journal of Stanford University, CTCL is a cancer of T lymphocytes—immune cells that normally circulate in the bloodstream to help the body fight invading pathogens. When a person has CTCL, the lymphocytes grow uncontrollably in a place they’re not supposed to: namely, inside the skin.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is a rare class of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a type of cancer of the white blood cells that are an integral part of the immune system, according to Stanford Medicine. Most cases typically begin as mycosis fungoides, or “mushroom-like fungal disease.” But while it can look like a fungus, there’s no microorganism involved. The rash associated with mycosis fungoides is a mix of infiltrating cancer cells and the skin’s reaction to these cells.

CTCL is typically slow-growing, remaining in its initial stages anywhere from a few months to many years, Stanford Medicine reported. While this may sound like a positive, it is actually what makes CTCL so dangerous, in that it can escape its hibernating stage without warning. The minute the cancer cells escape the skin and infiltrate the bloodstream or lymph nodes, the disease becomes exponentially more serious and much more difficult to treat.

Dermatologist Youn Kim, MD, who directs the Stanford multidisciplinary cutaneous lymphoma group, told Stanford Medicine that patients with advanced disease with adverse factors currently have a median life expectancy of less than five years.

“CTCL can be difficult to initially detect since it often seems like so many other skin irritations,” says Christopher J. Schaber, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Soligenix, Inc. “As there is no cure, innovative treatment is the only way to manage this disease.”

Soligenix, a biopharmaceutical company based in Princeton, NJ, is developing a product called SGX301 that is specifically designed to treat cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. SGX301 is a novel, first-in-class photodynamic therapy using a potent photosensitizer that is topically applied and activated by safe visible fluorescent light. The treatment allows patients to avoid secondary malignancies such as melanoma that are typically associated with ultraviolet light exposure. SGX301 has been awarded Orphan Drug and Fast Track Designations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and has recently been awarded orphan drug designation in Europe as well. The Company is currently advancing into a pivotal Phase 3 clinical study that will begin in the second half of this year.

“We hope that SGX301 will one day serve as a key tool in the quest to effectively treat this serious disease,” adds Schaber.

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