November 16, 2014 / 9:25 AM / 3 years ago

Bristol-Myers immunotherapy shows promise to replace chemo for melanoma

(Reuters) - Chemotherapy as a treatment for advanced melanoma could soon become obsolete, researchers said on Sunday, after patients taking an experimental immuno-oncology drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co had a much higher survival rate and had other favorable results.

The impressive results, compared with chemo, were seen in a late-stage study of the Bristol-Myers drug Opdivo, which helps take the brakes off the immune system by blocking the protein PD-1.

The 418-patient-study involved previously untreated patients with advanced melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Among those taking Opdivo, 73 percent were alive one year later, compared with 42 percent of those receiving standard chemo treatment dacarbazine.

Moreover, 40 percent of those taking Opdivo had tumor shrinkage, versus 14 percent for the chemo group. The treatment was associated with mild side effects, including fatigue and nausea.

"The results were incredibly good and show there will no longer be a role for chemotherapy in advanced melanoma," said Dr. Georgina Long, an associate professor at the Melanoma Institute Australia who helped lead the study.

Findings were presented at a medical meeting in Zurich.

Long, reached by phone there, said the findings bode well not only for Opdivo, but for an emerging crop of other PD-1 inhibitors being developed by other companies. They include products being tested by Merck & Co, Roche Holding AG and AstraZeneca Plc.

Merck's Keytruda in September received the first U.S. approval of a drug from the class, to treat advanced melanoma.

Opdivo had also shown strong results in a different Phase III trial that involved advanced melanoma patients who had previously been treated with Yervoy, another immuno-oncology drug from Bristol-Myers. Those results, released in September, showed tumors shrank in 32 percent of patients given Opdivo, compared with 11 percent of those receiving chemo.

Bristol-Myers is testing Opdivo for many other cancers, with early glimpses of success.

Treatment of a common form of advanced lung cancer with the drug led to a one-year survival rate of 41 percent in a midstage clinical trial, according to data presented two weeks ago.

The historical one-year survival rate for such patients, who previously failed on other drugs, is between 5.5 percent and 18 percent.

Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Leslie Adler

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