SUNDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- A new drug called lambrolizumab appears to improve outcomes in patients with advanced melanoma, according to the results of a phase 1 trial.
Lambrolizumab is an antibody that works by revealing the cancer to the immune system so it can mount a response and kill the cancer cells with few serious side effects, the researchers said.
"This is early, but it's very encouraging," said lead researcher Dr. Antoni Ribas, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"This is a new class of drugs for cancer that are giving benefits in patients with melanoma, in terms of having a high rate of tumor responses that are durable in patients with metastatic melanoma," he said.
Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer and, until recently, there was no effective treatment, Ribas said. In metastatic melanoma, the cancer has spread.
One of the ways some cancer cells fool the immune system is with a protein called PD-L1 on their surface, which renders the cancer invisible. "PD-L1 is a way the cancer tries to conceal itself or hide from the immune system," Ribas said.
Lambrolizumab blocks the protein and "exposes the cancer to the immune system," he said.
Ribas said that lambrolizumab might also be effective against other cancers, and has already been tested in patients with lung cancer.
The new study was a "phase 1b" trial, which seeks to determine if a drug is safe and also looks for signs of effectiveness. More testing and randomized trials are needed before the drug could become available, Ribas said.
The report was published online June 2 in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with the Sunday presentation of the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
For the trial, 135 patients with advanced metastatic melanoma were pla
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