June 5, 2011 / 1:56 PM / 6 years ago

Melanoma drug extends life in second large study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People with advanced melanoma who were treated with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co’s Yervoy plus chemotherapy lived an average of two months longer than people who got chemotherapy alone, in the first of many combination studies slated for this promising new drug.

The study, to be presented on Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, is the first to show that combining chemotherapy and an immune-system treatment is safe and effective for patients with advanced melanoma.

And it is the second major trial to show Yervoy, a new type of immunotherapy, can improve survival in patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Yervoy, known by the chemical name ipilimumab, works by spurring the immune system to fight off the cancer. It is the first approved therapy to clearly show patients with metastatic melanoma live longer.

For this study, a team led by Dr. Jedd Wolchok of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York divided 502 patients into two groups. Half of the patients in this study had M1c disease, an especially dire condition in which the cancer has spread in visceral organs such as the bowel, liver, adrenal glands, other intra-abdominal organs and the brain.

One group received the chemotherapy dacarbazine. The other got the same chemotherapy with ipilimumab. Patients who took ipilimumab on average lived 11.2 months compared with 9.1 months in the chemotherapy-alone group.

Wolchok said that represented a 28 percent reduction in the risk of death after a year, which was highly significant.

There were no gastrointestinal perforations in either group, and no drug-related deaths among patients who took ipilimumab.

The next step in the research, according to Wolchok, is to test other drug combinations, including the Roche Holding and Daiichi Sankyo targeted drug vemurafenib.

Editing by Eric Beech

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