New melanoma drug treatment a ‘game-changer’

Cancer sufferer George Schuszter has already benefited from one of the melanoma drugs. Photo: Angela WylieAustralian cancer patients will soon be able to test a potentially ”game-changing” melanoma treatment that could extend their lives for years.
Nanjing Night Net

A large trial combining two drugs for people with advanced melanoma is due to begin at several Australian hospitals in coming months after a small American study of 52 people found the treatment shrank most participants’ tumours. The clinical trial by the Ludwig Centre at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre found that while nine out of 10 patients responded to the treatment, 16 or one-third of the patients’ tumours regressed more than 80 per cent and five of these patients’ tumours regressed completely.

The director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Cancer Services at the Austin Hospital, Professor Jonathan Cebon, said the results showed ”unprecedented benefits” for patients with advanced melanoma, a common cancer that has been notoriously difficult to treat.

He said the results, announced this week in the US, showed more than 80 per cent of the patients were alive after one year of treatment, including some who had lived beyond two years.

”This is a disease which would normally be fatal and on average it is fatal within about six or seven months. With this clinical trial, the majority of patients responded and many of them appear to be alive and well many months later without evidence of relapsing, so it’s a real game changer,” he said.

While half of the patients experienced adverse events related to the treatment, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering said the drugs did not cause any deaths and the side effects ”were, in most cases, relatively easily managed and reversed”.

Professor Cebon said Australian patients would soon be invited to participate in a larger trial of the treatment, which includes two drugs – ipilimumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab.

Both drugs are being used by some Australian patients, however the recent US study was the first to combine the two for patients with advanced melanoma.

The international trial, which is aiming to enrol 915 people, will include the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Melbourne among other hospitals yet to be announced.

The research is being funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The treatment is part of a new class of immune system-boosting drugs that are showing promising results for several cancers. Some cancer specialists believe they could even become a cure.

Professor Cebon said he was excited about the upcoming trial because treatments for advanced melanoma that has spread beyond the skin were limited. He said the only drug that had controlled advanced melanoma for more than two years was Yervoy, and even then it was only that effective for about one in five patients. Furthermore, access to Yervoy is limited to those who can afford to pay about $120,000 for it because it is not yet on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

George Schuszter, 79, of Lilydale, said he believed Yervoy had kept his advanced melanoma at bay since he received it free through a trial under the care of Professor Cebon. He said although the drug had caused shooting pain down one of his legs, he would tolerate it to continue living with his loving wife of 58 years, Maria-Magdalen.

”I’m thrilled with it,” said the father of one, whose cancer has spread to his liver. ”I want to live.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with more than 10,000 Australians treated for melanoma each year. It is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 44 and about 1500 people died from it in 2011.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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