We all know melanoma to be the deadliest form of skin cancer. There are few treatments available for those individuals with advanced melanoma. But now an experimental drug called ipilimumab is causing skin cancer researchers to feel more hopeful. On Saturday it was reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2010 annual conference that patients receiving ipilimumab had longer survival rates than those who did not take this drug. Ipilimumab was developed by Bristol Myers Squibb in its US laboratory and is reported to prolong the life of patients suffering from advanced melanoma by 34 percent.
The study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that advanced melanoma patients who received ipilimumab and a peptide vaccine had a median survival of 10 months as compared with 6.4 months for patients who only received the vaccine. In addition, there was a near doubling of survival rates at 12 and 24 months. It was estimated that after two years, 24% of patients given the drug alone or in combination were still alive vs. 14% of those who were only given the peptide vaccine.
Ipilimumab is an antibody which belongs to a new class of drugs which activates T cells to trigger a cellular immune response. This drug works in aiding the immune system to fight tumors. It is reported that ipilimumab is a very powerful drug which can also overstimulate the immune system to attack normal tissue including the skin and colon. Patients treated with intravenous ipilimumab may be at risk for some serious adverse effects including death. Also reported in the New England Journal of Medicine were 14 deaths attributed to the use of ipilimumab, half of which were immune system related. The researchers of this study conclude that: “In some patients, side effects can be life-threatening and may be treatment-limiting.” Nevertheless, the positive results of this research is being hailed as a beacon of hope for many individuals who have very little options for therapy left.
It is expected that the Federal Food and Drug Administration will grant regulatory approval for ipilimumab as early as next year. It is hoped that this drug will be available for cancer patients sometime in 2012. At present the only way melanoma patients can receive this type of treatment is through “compassionate use distribution.” Some of the eligibility requirements include: Having a serious or immediately life threatening inoperable melanoma which has spread, who are 16 years or older, and have no alternative treatment options.
There are 75 locations in the United States which currently offer ipilimumab treatment through compassionate use studies. For a complete listing of eligibility requirements for receiving ipilimumab and for locations where compassionate use distribution is going on please visit Clinical Trials.gov.
It is reported that the incidence of melanoma has increased faster in the past 30 years than any other cancer type. And during this time there has been no real advancement in treating patients with advanced stages of melanoma. Researchers and doctors are hopeful that this new study will open the doors to new possibilities for treating even the most aggressive skin cancers.
For more information about melanoma and melanoma treatment please visit Skin Cancer Connection’s Melanoma Information pages.
Published On: June 09, 2010