WEDNESDAY, Aug. 25 (HealthDay News) -- By probing deeper into the biological mechanisms that go awry in melanoma, scientists have come up with an experimental drug that has had an effect in a surprising number of patients with advanced melanoma.
The drug, PLX4032, just completed a phase 1 clinical trial in which 81 percent of participants with a particular gene mutation had a partial response, meaning at least some shrinkage of the tumor.
The current standard treatments for metastatic melanoma -- chemotherapy and interleukin-2 (IL2) -- only have response rates in about 15 percent of these patients, said Dr. Paul Chapman, senior author of a study in which the findings are described.
The average survival time for someone diagnosed with melanoma is nine to 11 months, added Chapman, who is an attending physician in the Melanoma Sarcoma Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
One expert cautioned that it's too early to say whether the drug will actually prolong patient's lives, or if it might be helpful to patients in earlier stages of the disease.
"I don't want to say this is going to change survival rates but they're working with the most ill people, so you can't really generalize [to other patient populations]," said Dr. Alice Pentland, chair of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "I think the most important part of this breakthrough is the bigger percentage of people who responded."
The study, which is published in the Aug. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, was funded by drug makers Plexxikon and Roche Pharmaceuticals.
About nine years ago, scientists discovered that the tumors of about half of patients with melanoma have a mutation in a gene called BRAF.
The gene appears to help drive the runaway cell division that is a hallmark of cancer. "It's always on. It's always sig
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