Brain and Body

Drug Combination Capable of Eradicating up to 20% of Skin Cancer Tumors

April 20, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

3D structure of a melanoma cell derived by ion abrasion scanning electron microscopy.
Photo credit: 3D structure of a melanoma cell derived by ion abrasion scanning electron microscopy.

Combining these two existing immunotherapy drugs can destroy all traces of melanoma in one fifth of patients, a new study finds.

A groundbreaking study that combined two existing drug treatments against one of the deadliest forms of skin cancers, melanoma, demonstrated a survival rate of 69 percent among 142 patients over a two-year period. The findings also reported that 22 percent of participants had their tumors completely eradicated after treatment.

The drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab, both produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb, were previously used as standard therapies for treating melanomas with relative success. Unfortunately, fewer than half of patients respond to using the drugs on their own.

The researchers of the latest study believe that the combination of the two therapies is what brought about their latest success, with a greater number of patients responding to the combined treatment than to the single-drug treatments.

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James Larkin, who ran part of the trial at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, told BBC News: "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."

"This combination of drugs alters the balance of immune system, two years down the line the immune system might have stopped recognising the tumour. To me it is extremely encouraging that giving the combination again we can reintroduce recognition by the immune system — it is like a booster dose," Larkin went on to say.

Both drugs uses the body’s immune system in order to fight the cancer, a technique called immunotherapy, which is at the forefront in the battle against various cancers.

Although the results of the latest findings are from a small study, we can continue to look forward to more success stories using immunotherapy drugs in the near future.

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