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Two Skin Cancer Drugs Hailed as 'Breakthroughs'

Both can significantly increase survival for those with metastatic melanoma
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2011 8:39 AM CDT

(Newser) – Two new drugs offer new hope to patients with metastatic melanoma, the typically lethal advanced form of skin cancer. The trial of PLX4032, or vemurafenib, was so successful that the study was halted after three months so that all patients could receive the new drug, the Los Angeles Times reports. It is the first chemotherapy to target a specific mutation that occurs in 47% of melanoma patients. The study found it helped 48% of those patients, compared to just 5.5% who were taking the drug dacarbazine, the conventional treatment.

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The second drug, ipilimumab or Yervoy, stimulates the immune system to fight skin tumors. It has been found to be more effective than both conventional chemotherapy and a vaccine typically used in treatment, and was approved by the FDA in March—though a course of treatment costs $120,000. Manufacturers of both drugs plan to try them together to see if they can be even more effective when combined. A melanoma immunotherapy expert calls the findings "a major breakthrough." (Read more cancer stories.)

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