Drugs which augment the power of immune system have been found to give promising results in treating advanced melanoma. This has been revealed in a pair of clinical trials which was conducted under the aegis of Dr. Suzanne Topalian, director of the Melanoma Program at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors are substances which prod the immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells and the trials were conducted to test the effectiveness of these drugs.
The first trial revealed that Keytruda (pexelizumab), an immune checkpoint inhibitor had given better results in treating melanoma as compared to present day treatment regimens.
Yervoy (ipilimumab) is also an immune-boosting drug and in the second trial was found to be more effective to a combination of two different types of immune checkpoint inhibitors than to Yervoy used on its own.
Both the trials are slated to be presented to be presented at the meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, and both were also simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Advanced melanoma is a rapidly fatal disease until now and the new drugs provide hope for patients with advanced melanoma according to Dr. Gary Schwartz, chief of the division of Hematology/Oncology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
Schwartz, who also doubles as an expert for American Society of Clinical Oncology said, “We were lucky if patients lived nine to 11 months. Now we have patients living five or 10 years with metastatic disease, and that was unheard of in melanoma.”
Schwartz is very excited about the immune boosting drugs being tested and it has a potential to help curb other types of cancer.
Schwartz said the immune-boosting drugs now being tested have the potential to help curb many other forms of cancer.
Schwartz added, “The potential here is really limitless with immune activation. Now we can effectively turn on these immune switches and kill cancer cells. This is the beginning of a new age of oncology, and it is starting with melanoma.”
Yervoy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011. The drug Zeroes on an immune system “switch” called CTLA 4, which acts to inhibit the body’s immune cells so they don’t run amok. Cancer cells however uses CTLA 4 to shield itself from the immune defenses of the body.