Tags: Cancer | melanoma | treatment | tumors | disappear | Holy Grail

Melanoma Tumor Disappears After One Treatment of New Drug Combo

By    |   Tuesday, 28 April 2015 12:50 PM

In a "Holy Grail" response to treatment in which cancer tumors simply disappear, a melanoma tumor on a 49-year-old woman's chest "dissolved" after a single dose of a combination of two melanoma drugs. The deadly tumor vanished so quickly that it actually left a cavity in its place.

The woman was a participant in a recent Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center study evaluating the use of an innovative approach to treating melanoma called immunotherapy, which attempts to treat melanoma by energizing the patient's immune system.

The study, which involved more than 100 patients with advanced melanoma, used a cocktail of two drugs, nivolumab (brand name Opdivo), which helps keep immune cells from dying, and ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy), which removes a mechanism that stops immune cells from destroying cancer cells.

The cocktail worked better for most study participants than one drug alone, but researchers were surprised at how well the combination performed for this particular woman. "What was unusual was the magnitude [of recovery], and how quickly it happened," medical oncologist Dr. Paul Chapman told Live Science.

Dr. Chapman, who is head of the melanoma section at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and was one of the attending physicians, said, "This is one of the most astonishing responses I have seen. It reminds us of the potential power of the immune system if we can remove the 'brakes' that keep it from attacking cancer cells."

While both of the drugs used in the cocktail are approved for individual use by the Food and Drug Administration, they are not approved for simultaneous use. The aim of the research was to test them in combination, and the study was double-blind, with neither the physicians nor the participants knowing who received the ipilimubab/nivolumab combination or ipilimubab plus a placebo.

The combination had better results than ipilimubab plus the placebo: In the 72 patients who got the combination, 61 percent had their cancers shrink, while in the group of 37 that took ipilimubab/placebo, only 11 percent saw theirs shrink.

Further, after treatment with the combination, melanoma was undetectable in 22 percent of the combo recipients by the end of the study, which was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb, maker of the drugs.

"The incredibly high response rate seen in this trial for patients receiving the combination, approximately 60 percent now lets us tell patients that they have a high chance of significantly shrinking their melanoma with this treatment," lead author Michael Postow said in a press release.

The treatment has several downsides, such as serious side effects like colitis and diarrhea — up to 40 times a day — and endocrine gland problems. There is also the risk of a tumor dissolving in a vital organ and leaving a hole behind, with a potentially unknown outcome.

Another downside is the expense, with the cost of the two drugs in a combination treatment program of four treatments running well over $100,000.

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In a Holy Grail response to treatment in which cancer tumors simply disappear, a melanoma tumor on a 49-year-old woman's chest dissolved after a single dose of a combination of two melanoma drugs. The...
melanoma, treatment, tumors, disappear, Holy Grail
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 12:50 PM
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