Researchers said that a new experimental drug developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Medarex can extend the lives of patients with advanced melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The results paved the way for dealing with a form of cancer that has few treatment options. Melanoma cases have climbed faster than any other cancer type over the past 30 years, researchers said.
Nearly a quarter -- 24 percent -- of patients with advanced melanoma survived for an unusual two years after being administered intravenously with ipilimumab.
"Randomized clinical trials have repeatedly failed to demonstrate an improvement in overall survival in patients with advanced melanoma," said lead author Steven O'Day, who heads the melanoma program at The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in southern California.
O'Day described the study findings as "an exciting advance, both for patients with advanced melanoma and for the field of cancer immunology."
He presented the study at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting this weekend in Chicago.
Ipilimumab belongs to a new class of drugs that activate the immune system's T cells, which then seek and destroy melanoma cells, instead of targeting the cancer cell itself like previous treatments.
In the clinical test, patients who took Ipilimumab or were treated with a combination of the antibody and a peptide vaccine, also aimed at boosting the immune system, lived a median of 10 months, against 6.5 months for those administered a placebo or a peptide vaccine alone.
The Phase III clinical trial studied some 600 melanoma patients in several countries. Patients generally tolerated the treatment well, the researchers said.