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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.