Immunotherapy revolution for Skin cancer


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Melanoma commonly known as skin cancer is the third most common cancer among women ages 20-39 and the second most common cancer in men ages 20-39 a new drug is giving hope to the afflicted people even those in the advance stages of melanoma.

A study done in Britan showed that a fifth of people with advanced melanoma have no sign of tumours in their body after treatment with a pair of immunotherapy drugs.

The first survival data on using ipilimumab and nivolumab in combination showed 69% of patients, in a trial on 142, were still alive after two years. UK doctors leading the trial said the results were “very encouraging”.

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is the sixth most common cancer in the UK,It kills more than 2,000 people in Britain each year.

Data from a separate melanoma study on Merck’s immunotherapy pembrolizumab also showed an increase in survival.

The drug also works by cutting the immune system’s brakes.

The results of an early stage trial showed that a third of patients lived for 12 months with no sign of the tumour growth

The immune system is a powerful defence against infection. However, there are many “brakes” built in to stop it attacking our own tissues.

Cancer – which is a corrupted version of healthy tissue – can take advantage of those brakes to evade assault. Ipilimumab and nivolumab are designed to cut the brakes.

Both have become standard therapies in melanoma, but most researchers believe combination therapy will be essential.

The trial showed the survival rate after two years for ipilimumab alone was 53% and no patient’s tumours had completely disappeared. The equivalent figures for combination therapy were 69% and 22%.

The draw back being more than half of patients had severe to life-threatening side effects which stopped their treatment.

Dr James Larkin, who ran part of the trial at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, told the BBC News website: “It is very encouraging to see that survival rate.

“It will be important in terms of working out the benefit of these treatments in the longer term, but nevertheless it’s a relatively small study still.”

A much larger trial involving nearly 1,000 patients  is already churning out numbers but it has not run for long enough to produce survival figures.

Historically, when a treatment fails and a cancer starts to grow again then that drug has become useless. Dr Larkin thinks “we’re dealing with something different here”. He added: “This combination of drugs alters the balance of immune system, two years down the line the immune system might have stopped recognising the tumour.

Both drugs were developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Prof Richard Marais, from Cancer Research UK, said the results were “exciting” and “offer new hope to melanoma patients and their families”.

However, he added: “It’s important to remember that there’s an increased likelihood of severe side effects when these drugs are combined.

It is important to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from this combination and also which patients are most likely to experience the side effects.

This will help doctors to ensure each patient gets the best treatment they need.


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