New Skin Cancer Drug Raises Hope for Survival

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on February 24 2012 12:43 AM

A new treatment given to 132 skin cancer patients in the U.S. and Australia almost doubled their survival, according to New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers used the drug Vemurafenib (Zelboraf) on patients and found that they lived for 16 months on average as compared to those who underwent conventional treatment and survived for only nine months on average.

This drug is one of the two drugs used in the later stages of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, raising hope for people with the disease. This drug comes after a decade of research and will radically change the way patients with advanced melanoma are treated.

What makes this drug even more hopeful is the fact that it targets the tumours that express a certain gene mutation in advanced melanoma.

This study shows that Zelboraf changes the natural history of this disease. This data is beyond what I would have expected, BBC quoted Dr. Antoni Ribas, professor of haematology/oncology and a researcher at the Jonsson Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, as saying.

We're seeing a significant number of patients with durable responses to the drug, and that the whole group of treated patients is living longer, said Ribas. These results tell us that this drug is having a very big impact, and this changes the way we treat metastatic melanoma.

According to Elizabeth Woolf, head of Cancer Research UK, this is an interesting, impressive but relatively small trial of a promising new-generation melanoma drug.

On Cancer Research UK, she said, Everyone on the trial had the drug, so we cannot tell how large the benefits are, compared to people who didn't have it, or had another treatment. And because the drug targets a particular gene fault, only half of all melanoma patients are eligible.

Woolf continued and said, About half of those treated seem to benefit, so it could potentially help roughly a quarter of patients with advanced melanoma overall.

Looking at these uncertainties, and now that the drug is available to UK cancer patients, it will be interesting to see what price the manufacturer charges so as not to place too great a strain on already scarce NHS resources, she said.

Vemurafenib (Zelboraf) was licensed for use in Europe. Patients in England will have to apply for the drug to the Cancer Drugs Fund, according to the Cancer Research UK.

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