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Promising New Treatment for Advanced Melanoma

October 08, 2015

The FDA recently approved treatment for advanced melanoma that could extend survival rates for people battling this late-stage skin cancer.

The measure granted accelerated approval for the combined use of two drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab, for the treatment of metastatic melanoma. The two drugs were previously approved as but this recent development comes after a study showed that combining nivolumab and ipilimumab increased response rates in patients with BRAF wide-type melanoma (BRAF is a gene commonly mutated in people with melanoma).

In the study, people with BRAF wide-type melanoma had a response rate of 60 percent for the combined therapy compared to an 11 percent response rate in those treated with ipilimumab alone.  Nearly 1 in 5 patients experienced a complete response, and 79 percent of those who had a response had ongoing-durable responses beyond 9 months at the final analysis.  Both nivolumab and ipilimumab are administered through an IV and are used to treat patients whose cancer has spread or whose tumor cannot be surgically removed.

This combined treatment is just another example of the big leaps we’ve made in cancer treatment thanks to immunotherapy.  T cells are the foot soldiers of the human body that can be reactivated with the use of these novel agents, and the body’s own immune system can fight the disease and attack cancer cells. The therapy has advanced and redefined cancer care and improved outcomes for people with metastatic melanoma. More than 76,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year, so this new therapy could potentially save thousands of lives. It also creates a new standard of care, higher response rates and a better chance for controlling late-stage melanoma.

The FDA has approved more than eight drugs for the treatment of melanoma. It approved ipilimumab, which goes by the brand name Yervoy, for advanced melanoma in 2011. for the same treatment. The new combined treatment is the first ever immunotherapy cancer combination approved by the FDA. The FDA, which sometimes gives accelerated approval to drugs that treat serious diseases or that meet an urgent medical need, is expected to issue full approval for the combined therapy next January.

UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health currently offers this treatment and several melanoma clinical trials. Most insurance and Medicare plans will cover this therapy, but if you are underinsured or don’t have insurance, patient assistance programs may be available. If you are interested in learning more about cancer immunotherapy treatment, please call 1-800-648-3818 to schedule an appointment.

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