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Combination Melanoma Treatment Extends Life

June 6, 2011

A new study found that people with advanced melanoma who were treated with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Yervoy plus chemotherapy lived an average of two months longer than people who got chemotherapy alone.

The study is the first to show that combining chemotherapy and an immune-system treatment is safe and effective for patients with advanced melanoma.

It is also the second major trial to show Yervoy (ipilimumab), a new type of immunotherapy drug, can improve survival in patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Yervoy works by spurring the immune system to fight off the cancer.  It is the first approved therapy to clearly show patients with metastatic melanoma live longer.

Half of the 502 patients in the study had M1c disease, which is a condition in which the cancer has spread in visceral organs like bowel, liver, adrenal glands, other intra-abdominal organs and the brain.

One group received the chemotherapy dacarbazine, while the other got the same chemotherapy with ipilimumab.  Patients who took ipilimumab lived an average of 11.2 months compared with 9.1 months in the chemotherapy-alone group.

Dr. Jedd Wolchok of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center told Reuters Health that represented a 28 percent reduction in the risk of death after a year, which was highly significant.

According to Wolchok, the next step in this research is to test other drug combinations, including the Roche Holding and Daiichi Sankyo targeted drug vemurafenib.

Dr. April Salama, a Duke University melanoma specialists, told The Associated Press that the study is a landmark  and the results are “very impressive” in people who historically have not fared very well.

Bristol-Myers Squibb paid for the study and many researchers consult or work for the company.

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