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2 New Drugs May Treat Advanced Melanoma

Studies Show Yervoy and Vemurafenib Improve Survival in Melanoma Patients

Vemurafenib Approval Expected

Study researcher Paul B. Chapman, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, tells WebMD that the hope is that some patients will respond to the drug for many years or even indefinitely.

He adds that a few patients from an earlier trial have been taking the drug for two years and continue to do well.

Chapman and colleagues are also investigating whether vemurafenib improves quality of life in very sick patients with advanced disease. Extreme pain, fatigue, weight loss, and bowel problems are common symptoms with late-stage melanoma.

"The hope is that we will be able to get these patients out of bed, off pain medications, and back into life with this drug," he says.

Genentech has submitted an application to the FDA to market vemurafenib for the treatment of advanced melanoma, and the agency is expected to make its ruling known by late October, Genentech spokesperson Krysta Pellegrino tells WebMD.

Yervoy Plus Chemo Improves Survival

In a second study presented at the ASCO meeting, the combination of the immune-system targeting drug Yervoy and standard chemotherapy with dacarbazine was shown to improve patient survival when compared to chemotherapy alone.

Yervoy, marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., is approved for patients with inoperable or metastatic melanoma.

Although the average survival was just two months longer for patients in the combination portion of the study (11.2 months vs. 9.1), almost half of the combination-treated patients were alive after one year, compared to 36% of those who got the chemotherapy alone. Close to 21% were alive after three years, compared to 12% of patients treated only with dacarbazine.

Marc S. Ernstoff, MD, of New Hampshire's Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, says there are more drugs in the pipeline expected to target novel pathways in advanced melanoma.

"There are new agents coming in the next few years that will give us more tools in the toolbox of treatments for melanoma," he tells WebMD.

Chapman agrees, adding that Yervoy and vemurafenib mark the beginning of a new era of melanoma treatment.

"These new treatments will allow us to attack these tumors with a deeper understanding of what is driving them," he says.

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