New Drug a Weapon Against Advanced Melanoma: Study

June 1, 2015   ·   0 Comments

New Drug a Weapon Against Advanced Melanoma

Compared to Yervoy, nivolumab more than doubled time to disease progression, researchers found

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, May 31, 2015 (HealthDay News) — The life expectancies of people with advanced melanoma may be doubled or even quadrupled, thanks to a new drug that harnesses the power of patients’ immune systems to fight their cancer, researchers reported Sunday.

The drug, nivolumab (Opdivo), slowed cancer progression in melanoma patients by more than double, compared with an earlier immunotherapy drug called ipilimumab (Yervoy).

What’s more, the delay in cancer progression nearly quadrupled when the two drugs were combined, compared with taking ipilimumab alone, the researchers said.

But the combination therapy came with greater side effects, which may limit treatment in frail patients. However, the researchers noted that no deaths occurred during the large-scale, international clinical trial.

“This trial was conducted at 137 sites globally, and the safety guidelines that were in place clearly were able to handle these side effects,” said study author Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of the Melanoma and Immunotherapeutics Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “This treatment can be safely applied in a global setting.”

The findings were presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago; they were published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nivolumab and ipilimumab both belong to a class of drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors, which boost the immune system‘s ability to attack and destroy cancer cells, the researchers explained.

Cancer cells flout immune attack by hiding behind processes that normally keep the immune system from running amok and targeting healthy cells.

Ipilimumab works by blocking a “switch” called CTLA-4 that cancer cells use to masquerade as normal cells. It was the first drug to be associated with an improvement in overall survival for patients with advanced melanoma, the researchers said in background information.

But nivolumab belongs to a second-generation set of immune checkpoint inhibitors that target a more cancer-specific “switch” called PD1. Another study presented earlier at the ASCO meeting showed that nivolumab is effective in treating lung cancer as well.

Both ipilimumab and nivolumab are FDA-approved for use in patients with melanoma that is advanced or cannot be removed by surgery.

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