Melanoma drug fares well in clinical trial

A drug that was recently fast-tracked for FDA approval has shown encouraging results in an early phase melanoma study. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles are reporting positive results from preliminary testing of the drug. Developed by Merck, lambrolizumab works to block a protein called PD-L1, which researchers believe cancer cells use to evade cancer-killing T cells.

“This is an antibody that stimulates the immune system to attack the cancer cells by taking away a mechanism used by the cancer to hide itself from being recognized,” said research leader Dr. Antoni Ribas, professor of medicine in the UCLA division of hematology-oncology.

According to Ribas, lambrolizumab activates the immune system to target the cancer and control it in the long-term. Up to this point, the drug seems to come with generally mild side effects that are considered manageable. For the study, Ribas and his team examined 135 patients, all of whom had advanced metastatic melanoma. On the whole, cancer improved for 38 percent of patients. What’s more is that 52 percent of patients who followed a high-dose regimen showed confirmed improvement.

“The early data suggests that lambrolizumab may be able to provide a high frequency of tumor responses, up to 50 percent of patients, and that these are durable responses,” said Ribas.

The drug is being explored to potentially treat other cancers as well, including lung cancer. “The FDA granted lambrolizumab a breakthrough status, which means that they want to evaluate the data at the highest level as it comes in to make sure it can reach patients as soon as possible,” said Ribas.

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