Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size

New Drug Extends Lives of Melanoma Patients

Study Shows Ipilimumab Helps Immune System Fight Deadly Skin Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 7, 2010 (Chicago) -- A new drug that revs up the immune system to attack cancer cells extended the lives of people with advanced melanoma by an average of nearly four months in late-stage testing.

That may not sound like much, but given that "average survival [for metastatic melanoma] is six to nine months, on average, an additional four months is a very large difference for these patients," says one of the study's leaders, Steven O'Day, MD. He is director of the melanoma program at the Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Los Angeles.

It's the first time any treatment has been shown to improve survival times in metastatic melanoma patients in rigorous late-stage clinical testing, he says.

O'Day presented findings on the drug, called ipilimumab, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). They were simultaneously published in the June 5 online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer and is expected to take the lives of about 8,700 Americans this year. It is treatable if caught early, but once it spreads (metastasizes), it is rarely cured and typically kills within a year.

Patients have few treatment options. Chemotherapy drugs used to treat advanced melanoma shrink only about 15% of tumors. Interleukin-2 (IL-2), the standard treatment, stimulates the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. Tumors shrink in one in four patients with advanced melanoma who get this treatment, but only about 6% to 11% live for five years.

As a result, researchers have been searching for new options. At last year's ASCO meeting, researchers reported that a vaccine known as gp100 that trains the immune system to seek out and attack cancer cells appeared to extend the time until cancer progressed.

Ipilimumab is a human monoclonal antibody that targets a molecule called CTLA-4 on the surface of T-cells. CTLA-4 acts like a brake to the immune system. Blocking the brake with ipilimumab unleashes the T-cells so they can go out and attack cancer cells, O'Day explains.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Malignant melanoma
About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
Woman checking out tan lines
There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
precancerous lesions slideshow
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
screening tests for men
Vitamin D
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
Brilliant sun rays