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Drug Shows Early Promise Against Advanced Melanoma

Helps immune system recognize, kill cancer cells, researchers explain

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In the end, there were four patients who showed a "partial response" to the drug, which meant their tumors shrunk. One patient continued to see a regression with further treatment, and is still stable after more than 10 months, according to Middleton.

The most common side effects were rash, fever and "tumor flare" -- swelling and tenderness at the site of a tumor. Two of four patients who got the highest drug dose did have an immediate drop in blood pressure, so the researchers have since set the maximum dose below that.

Middleton said his team is now studying the drug in a larger group of patients, and trying to find the most effective regimen.

"The other obvious question is, where would this drug fit in?" Middleton said.

Besides Yervoy and other immunotherapies under development, there are also newer "targeted" drugs that directly attack proteins found on some melanomas -- including drugs called BRAF inhibitors.

Weber said researchers will have to figure out whether combinations of different therapies work better than a single one -- and which patients stand to benefit from a particular combination.

Middleton agreed. "We now have a whole range of therapies coming out, which is exciting," he said. But the difficult part, he added, will be understanding how to best use them.

In the United States, about 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and 9,700 will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. While melanoma is relatively uncommon, its incidence has been rising for the past few decades, the cancer society notes.

Immunocore, the company developing IMCgp100, funded the current study. Middleton reports no financial interests in the work.

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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