Shrinking Tumors

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Thursday, August 26, 2010 - 9:07am

New drug shows great promise in fighting melanoma.

Treatment options for advanced melanoma, when tumors from the deadly cancer have spread from the skin throughout the body are slim, at best.

"The last time a drug was approved for advanced melanoma was over a decade ago," notes Dr. Tim Turnham of the Melanoma Research Foundation, "and 85% of people who take that drug get no benefit at all."

Fortunately, scientists are reporting early success with an experimental drug that shrank melanoma tumors, and in at least a few cases got rid of them completely.

The drug, called PLX 40-32, targets a genetic mutation called B-RAF.

B-RAF is only found in about half of melanoma patients, but of those B-RAF patients in this study more than 80-percent responded to the drug.

"Now when someone walks in door with a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, we want to know immediately whether or not their tumor bears a B-RAF mutation," says Dr. Keith Flaherty.

Dr. Flaherty is a leader of the research at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer.

He says that while the drug appears to be quite effective early in treatment, the cancer often returns within a year, sparking additional research to combine PLX 40-32 with other drugs.

"We have further gains to make even in this population, but it's certainly a bigger leap than we've had at any time previous," he says.

Still, scientists say it'll take many more "big leaps" to come up with a cure.

Roche Pharmaceuticals licensed the drug, which is currently in a Phase III trial.

If that proves successful, Roche will go for FDA approval.

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