Swiss drug maker Roche announced late Tuesday that its new melanoma treatment drug RG7204 has shown significant improvements in patient survival rates in its clinical study.
This drug, designed to treat metastatic melanoma, is the first major breakthrough in treatment options for patients with this deadly skin cancer.
Metastatic melanoma is a form of skin cancer which spreads throughout the body. It is the most aggressive and lethal form of skin cancer. Those diagnosed with this cancer have a less than 1 in 4 chance of survival over 1 year. Approximately half of all melanoma patients are believed to have a mutated protein which is responsible for uncontrolled cell division. This rapid cell division results in widespread cancer metastasis. The melanoma treatment drug studied in this trial works by blocking this protein, thus reducing the spread of the cancer and increasing life expectancy.
In the study, known as BRIM3, patients who were already diagnosed with metastatic melanoma were randomly assigned to receive either the melanoma treatment drug RG7204 or dacarbazine, a standard chemotherapy drug. Common side effects of the RG7204 include rash, sensitivity to light, joint pain, hair loss and fatigue. There were several cases of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, a skin cancer treated by removal. Some patients also experienced increased liver enzymes which were mild and reversible.
In August 2010 preliminary results of the BRIM3 trial were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. They reported that 81 percent of patients given the RG7204 had either a partial or complete shrinkage of their cancer tumor and stayed in remission for an average of 7 months. This was remarkable finding, as typical response to treatment is between 10 to 15 percent. In fact, the results had such an impact that The New York Times ran a story soon after these results were released questioning the ethics of even conducting the BRIM3 trial. They reported that with such significant results from the trial it is potentially unethical to withhold the trial drug from dying patients who have been assigned to the control group.
This melanoma treatment drug is one of 800 drugs currently in trial for the treatment of cancer. It's successful results bring it to the forefront of the group and it is expected to have a significant impact on the field of oncology. The complete results of the study are expected to be presented at a conference later this year.