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Two Drugs Shown to Prolong Survival in Advanced Melanoma Cases
Date:6/6/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- Two new drugs prolong the lives of patients with advanced melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer and one that is notoriously difficult to treat, let alone cure.

The first treatment, vemurafenib, inhibits a gene mutation harbored in half of all melanoma patients, but is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The other drug, Yervoy (ipilumumab), is an immune system therapy that won approval in March.

Research on both drugs was presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago while also being published simultaneously online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is really a huge step toward personalized care in melanoma," Dr. Paul Chapman, lead author of the first study and the attending physician in the melanoma/sarcoma service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said in a statement. "This [vemurafenib] is the first successful melanoma treatment tailored to patients who carry a specific gene mutation in their tumor, and could eventually become one of only two drugs available that improves overall survival in advanced cancers."

The second study was also led by doctors from Sloan-Kettering.

"Having two trials that show a benefit in survival in patients with melanoma, both of these in first-line settings -- we weren't here just a few years ago," said Dr. Stephen Hodi, director of the Melanoma Center at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "These are huge, paradigm-shifting results for the field."

"The March FDA approval of ipilumumab [Yervoy] was the first new drug approval for melanoma in 13 years," said Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation.

In the vemurafenib trial, sponsored by the drug's makers, researchers randomly assigned 675 patients with advanced, inoperable mel
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