Combination Therapy Dramatically Shrinks Melanoma Tumors

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Combination therapy dramatically shrinks advanced melanoma tumors.
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Researchers have found a way to shrink melanoma tumors that they say is long-lasting, using a combination of drugs that include ipilimumab and the investigational antibody nivolumab.

Experiments from a Phase I clinical trial showed some patients with the disease experienced an 80 percent reduction in tumor size after just 12-weeks of treatment with the drug combination.

The findings that are published online in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center researchers at the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) also showed the drug side effects were minimal and easily reversed.

The study’s lead author Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD. Dr. Wolchok, a medical oncologist at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, said in a press release the response seen to the immunotherapy has never been seen before.

Forty percent of patients in the Phase I trial who were given varying doses of the drugs had a 50 percent reduction in melanoma tumor size.

The drugs work so well together because they attack the deadly cancer in different ways.

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The researchers say ipilimumab, approved for melanoma treatment by the FDA in 2011, boosts the immune system in a way that prompts T-cells to attack tumors.

Dr. Wolchok discusses more about how ipilimumab works to potentially fight other types of cancer in the video below.

Nivolumab, which is a monoclonal antibody that neutralizes the programmed death 1 (PD-1) protein, activates T-cells in a different way that allows ipilimumab to continue attacking melanoma.

"Previous studies had shown that ipilimumab alone could prolong overall survival in advanced melanoma patients, and nivolumab alone could produce durable tumor responses in melanoma and other cancers, so the combination of the two drugs was quite logical and well supported by preclinical and clinical trial data," Wolchok said.

The Phase I trial results are promising and more trials are planned.

Researchers are planning to test the combination melanoma therapy beginning this month at 150 institutions worldwide in patients newly diagnosed with melanoma. The researchers hope to also uncover why just some patients respond to immunotherapy for cancer treatment.

Image credit: CDC Public Health Image Library

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