herald

Friday 21 September 2018

Super pill hailed as cure for skin cancer

Two new treatments have been hailed for their ability to extend the lives of people with the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Malignant melanoma kills more than 2,000 people in the UK each year, and more than 11,000 people annually develop the disease.

A new pill, Vemurafenib, could offer patients targeted therapy when their disease has spread around the body.

It works by acting on a faulty gene, BRAF, which is found in half of terminally ill patients whose cancer has spread to other organs.

A trial showed 84pc of patients given Vemurafenib pills twice a day were still alive six months later compared with 64pc on standard chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, trial results from a separate study show that a one-course infusion treatment of Ipilimumab can significantly extend the survival of patients with advanced melanoma.

Some patients who might otherwise have died in weeks or months have had years of extra life.

At least one is still alive five years after receiving the treatment, and gives the impression of being "cured".

Ipilimumab is one of a new generation of antibody drugs which work by stimulating the immune system and could be available within months.

The Vemurafenib trial showed it reduced the risk of the disease worsening by 74% compared with chemotherapy.

And the response rate -- patients whose tumours got smaller -- was almost nine times higher in the pill treatment group (48.4pc) compared with those on chemotherapy (5.5pc).

The results were so impressive, British experts running the trial stopped it early so they could switch all patients in the chemotherapy group on to the new drug.

Experts are also conducting research to find out whether vemurafenib could be used for other cancers, including ovarian, thyroid and bowel cancer.

Professor Richard Marais, whose work at the Institute of Cancer Research demonstrated the importance of BRAF in melanoma, said: "This is the biggest breakthrough in melanoma treatment in more than 30 years.

"The results demonstrate for the first time that a targeted therapy can work in melanoma and will change our approach to treating this disease. It is an enormous advance in the field."

Roche, the firm behind the drug, has now submitted data to European and US regulator to apply for a licence.

The makers of Ipilimumab, the global drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb, has submitted a licence application to European regulators which is likely to be granted in the next two months.

hnews@herald.ie

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