New trial findings show increased survival rates in advanced skin cancer
More than 600 people are diagnosed with melanoma in Ireland every year
Malignant melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, with 75 per cent of people dying within a year of diagnosis. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
New research launched today in the US shows that combining two innovative treatments of advanced skin cancer leads to unprecedented one- and two-year survival rates in patients with this form of cancer.
The highly anticipated new clinical trial findings found that combining the melanoma treatment ipilimumab (Yervoy) with nivolumab, an investigational therapy, led to one- and two-year survival rates of 94 per cent and 88 per cent respectively in patients with malignant melanoma, which is often deadly.
In Ireland, almost 630 people a year are diagnosed with melanoma and it leads to 110 deaths a year. Malignant melanoma, which is melanoma that has spread to other areas of the body, is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, with 75 per cent of people dying within a year of diagnosis. The incidence of malignant melanoma is increasing worldwide, including in Ireland.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb study results presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology in Chicago today also illustrate the potential of harnessing the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. There are four clinical trial sites in Ireland, which means that Irish patients are currently benefiting from this groundbreaking treatment approach.
Ipilimumab, known as Ipi, received European marketing authorisation in 2011 and was the first significant advance for malignant melanoma in 30 years. An average course of treatment costs €85,000 and previous trials have shown that it can improve survival rates.
The skin cancer drug was made available to patients in Ireland in May 2012 following a campaign by patients. The campaign was spearheaded by Cathy Durkin, a mother of three young children, who died in December 2012 at the age of 41.
Dr Derek Power, consultant medical oncologist at Cork University Hospital and chairman of the Irish Melanoma Forum said the new findings marked an unbelievable development in the treatment of melanoma although he did caution that it was early days, as this was a phase-one trial.
“Historically, you would never have heard these kinds of figures with melanoma. Only 50 per cent of patients survived one year and about 20 per cent two years. The survival rates appear to be hugely increased with these drugs.”
Dr Power has treated 34 patients with ipilimumab since it was licensed and he estimates that 80 to 90 Irish patients a year are being treated with the drug. While nivolumab, the other drug studied in this trial, will not be licensed for some time yet, there are 24 patients currently taking part in a phase-three clinical trial of the drug in Cork, Dublin and Galway.