News / Health

Immune Drugs Hold Hope of 'Clinical Cure' for Melanoma

FILE - Dr. Antonella Tost, Dermatologist University of Miami School of Medicine, examines Michael Casa Nova, 12, for symptoms of skin cancer due to sun exposure, June 15, 2011.
FILE - Dr. Antonella Tost, Dermatologist University of Miami School of Medicine, examines Michael Casa Nova, 12, for symptoms of skin cancer due to sun exposure, June 15, 2011.
Reuters
A new generation of drugs designed to trigger the immune system to fight cancer is offering the prospect of a “clinical cure” for some melanoma skin cancer patients who until a few years ago were more likely to be facing a swift death.
 
Cancer specialists gathering for a European conference at the weekend said the so-called immunotherapy drugs, a class led by Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy, or ipilimumab, have transformed an area of oncology in which until recently doctors barely had time to get to know their patients.
 
Stephen Hodi, assistant professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the United States, said he was cautious about using the term cure, but described recent advances as a “paradigm shift”.
 
At the least, he said, the success of this new generation of medicines means some melanoma patients would now be living with a chronic disease, rather than facing imminent death.
 
“This is a really amazing time ... A few years ago we could never have imagined using the C-word, cure, in melanoma,” he said. “But we are headed that way.”
 
“Ipilimumab opened a door, and now the field is moving extremely fast,” he told Reuters at the European Cancer Congress (ECC) in Amsterdam.
 
Yervoy, approved by regulators in 2011, was hailed as a breakthrough treatment in melanoma after it became the first drug ever to extend survival in patients with advanced forms of the melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
 
A type of drug known as a human monoclonal antibody, it activates the body's immune system to fight the cancer by targeting a protein receptor called Cytotoxic T-Lymphocyte Antigen 4, or CTLA-4.
 
On average, Yervoy added only about four months of life in pivotal trials, but around 20 percent of patients had an impressively durable response to the drug.
 
Hodi presented new data at the ECC from the largest and longest study of overall survival for patients treated with Yervoy which showed some of them can survive for up to 10 years.
 
Alexander Eggermont of the Institut Gustave Roussy Comprehensive Cancer Center in France, who specializes in the treatment of melanoma, said Hodi's results suggested some patients could be effectively cured of their cancer - a concept known as a “clinical cure” - with the drug helping the immune to keep the disease in check.
 
“Patients apparently can keep residual tumors under control for a long time when the immune system is properly 'reset', and the concept of 'clinical cures' becomes a reality,” he said in a statement to the conference.
 
And with a next generation of immunotherapy drugs - designed to disable proteins called PD1 and PDL1 that prevent the immune system from spotting and attacking cancer cells - already being tested alone and in combination with Yervoy, there is “tremendous promise” in the treatment of melanoma, said Hodi.
 
Bristol-Myers Squibb is conducting late stage trials of its next-generation drug, nivolumab, in advanced melanoma, while rival U.S. drugmaker Merck is developing a competitor, lambrolizumab, which in early-stage trials helped shrink tumors in 38 percent of advanced melanoma patients.
 
Swiss drugmaker Roche's also has a leading contender - MPDL3280A - in this class.
 
“These [Yervoy] survival results could even double or triple with anti-PD1/PDL1 monoclonal antibodies, and metastatic melanoma could become a curable disease for perhaps more than 50 percent of patients over the coming five to 10 years,” Eggermont said.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More