WEDNESDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- A preliminary, first-stage study funded by a pharmaceutical company shows promising results for an experimental double-drug therapy for melanoma.
The two drugs, known as dabrafenib and trametinib, appeared to delay progression of the potentially deadly skin cancer with fewer side effects than an existing drug called vemurafenib (Zelboraf).
However, the research into the drug combination is only in the first of three phases required before the U.S. government can approve its use. The first phase is designed to test the safety of a medication, not whether it works.
Unlike some other cancers, melanoma has stubbornly resisted advances in treatment. About 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and about 8,000 of those will die from the disease.
Researchers tested the drug combo in patients with advanced melanoma and a genetic mutation that exists in about half of all melanomas.
"Not only are the two drugs causing shrinkage of the cancer, but we're seeing that a second anti-cancer therapy may actually suppress the side effects of the first," said Dr. Jeffrey Weber, director of the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Fla., in a news release from the American Society of Clinical Oncologists.
Vemurafenib, approved last year, aims to prevent progression of the cancer in these patients. But patients' tumors eventually become immune to its effects.
The new analysis looks at 77 patients who took the combination therapy. Their cancer didn't progress for an average of 7.4 months, similar to what was seen in previous research with vemurafenib only. The researchers haven't released statistics about their survival rates.
Skin lesions, a side effect, were much less common in the patients on the combination therapy than in patients who took vemurafe
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