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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs