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Drug trials offer new skin cancer hope

Trial results on two ground-breaking drugs are expected to bring new hope to patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Together they mark the first significant step forward in treating advanced, spreading melanoma for more than 10 years.

Ipilimumab has just been approved in the US as a 'second line' back-up treatment for patients who have failed to respond to conventional chemotherapy.

New trial data shows that the drug, marketed as Yervoy by Bristol-Myers Squibb, also extends the lives of previously untreated patients.

They are due to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (Asco) meeting in Chicago in June.

Findings from a study demonstrating the effectiveness of another cutting edge new drug from Roche, PLX4032 -- branded as Plexxicon -- have also been submitted for presentation at Asco.

Currently the prospects for patients with spreading, or metastatic, melanoma are bleak.

Once the disease starts to spread from the skin to other parts of the body average life expectancy is only six to nine months. The two new drugs offer the first real hope of extending their lives significantly, say doctors.

Dr Paul Lorigan, from the Christie Hospital, Manchester, who took part in the earlier Yervoy trial, said: "Both drugs are big developments and mark a huge step forward.

"There's nothing out there now that shows any significant benefit for these patients. Drug after drug has been trialled and none have worked. This is a very exciting time."

hnews@herald.ie