Two cancer drugs when taken together can shrink tumors in nearly 60% of people with advanced-stage melanoma, according to a new study.
The trial, which enrolled 945 patients at 137 sites worldwide, found that treating the cancer with medications ipilimumab and nivolumab stopped its advance for almost a year in 58% of the cases.
Both drugs are designed to bring the body’s natural defences in on the fight against the cancer. While the immune system is generally a potent agent in combatting disease, there are built-in “brakes” to keep the body from attacking its own tissue. Cancer – which is a corrupted version of healthy tissue – can use this as a loophole to continue growing unchecked. However, both these medications are designed to turn these breaks off.
The results were presented by a team of UK doctors this weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual conference.
Dr James Larkin, a consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital and one of the UK’s lead investigators, told the BBC:
By giving these drugs together, you are effectively taking two brakes off the immune system rather than one so the immune system is able to recognise tumours it wasn’t previously recognising and react to that and destroy them.
For immunotherapies, we’ve never seen tumour shrinkage rates over 50% so that’s very significant to see. This is a treatment modality that I think is going to have a big future for the treatment of cancer.
Cancer Research UK said the drugs deliver a “powerful punch” against one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is the sixth most common cancer in the UK – it kills more than 2,000 people in Britain each year.
However, there is still some work to be done as combining the drugs has some severe side effects. Nonetheless, it is an impressive breakthrough in the ongoing fight against the horrific disease.