Long-Awaited Advances in the Treatment of Metastatic Melanoma
Melanoma is one of the most preventable cancers, and it is extremely treatable when detected in its earliest stages. According to Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, "If melanoma is diagnosed at stages 0 or I., meaning it has not metastasized (spread) to the other organs of the body or lymph nodes, then surgical removal of the lesion is often all that is needed to eradicate the cancer. However, once metastasis has begun, the prognosis quickly turns bleak. Once the cancer becomes stage IV, the patient’s life expectancy is only about eight months.". Other treatments, such as immunotherapy, chemotherapy, regional perfusion, and radiation therapy are employed to improve symptoms, and to shrink or destroy the tumors; often at the cost of quality-of-life.
Despite the gravity of advanced metastatic melanoma, there have not been any recent advances in treatment. However, on March 25, 2011, the FDA granted approval to the CTLA-4 inhibitor Yervoy (Bristol-Myers Squibb). This approval followed findings from a recent randomized, double-blind Phase III study which compared the survival rates of patients with advanced metastatic melanoma that had not responded to other treatments. After being administered Yervoy versus the existing gp-100 peptide melanoma vaccine, this study revealed that the patients in the Yervoy group had a significantly higher survival rate than those in the gp-100 group. The Yervoy approval is the first treatment to be approved for advanced metastatic melanoma in 13 years.
The 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology conference is currently underway. This year’s conference has had a huge focus on melanoma compared to other years. At this conference, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche made a groundbreaking announcement that they will be joining forces for a new clinical trial which will examine the efficacy of treating advanced metastatic melanoma with a combination of Yervoy and the Roche drug candidate vemurafenib. Vemurafenib is a BRAF inhibitor that, though not yet FDA-approved, has shown significant promise in treating this type of melanoma. These two classes of drugs attack the disease in different ways. Researchers are hopeful that the combination of these two drugs will have a much higher positive response rate than each drug alone.Continued on the next page