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New trials show promise for skin cancer treatment

Published:Monday | April 20, 2015 | 5:06 PM

Drugs that spur the immune system to target cancer cells may prove an effective skin cancer treatment, according to two clinical trials published on Monday.

The drugs, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, had impressive results in treating advanced melanoma, according to the findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In some cases, the results were even better than the current frontline treatment for the cancer.

One trial showed the drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) had better outcomes compared to the commonly used treatment for skin cancer, Yervoy (ipilimumab).

The other trial showed patients’ tumors responded better to a combination of the drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy than just Yervoy on its own. However, around half of patients getting the combination therapy experienced moderate to serious side effects.

Such treatments could also prove expensive. According to the Wall Street Journal, the drugs used in the combination treatment study, for instance, come at a hefty price with a four-treatment course of Yervoy costing US$120,000 and Opdivo costing US$12,500 a month.

The study results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. The trial with the combination drugs was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb and the other trial was funded by Merck.