New drug against melanoma

Thanks to Raven on the Pharyngula Endless Thread, here’s a ready-made bit of science news:

New Drug May Treat Advanced Melanoma
No Cure, but Study Shows New Melanoma Drug Far Better Than Standard Treatment
By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health NewsReviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD Aug. 25, 2010 — It’s no cure, and it works only for about half of melanoma patients, but a new drug extends progression-free survival in patients dying of advanced melanoma.

The vast majority of patients with advanced, metastatic melanoma gain only a few months extra survival from standard treatment. But early tests show that an experimental drug, dubbed PLX4032 by Plexxikon and Roche Pharmaceuticals, offers far greater benefits.

The findings are particularly amazing as they come from a very early, phase I clinical trial. Study leader Keith T. Flaherty, MD, is director of developmental therapeutics at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“For those who respond to treatment, the average duration of progression-free survival is nine months,” Flaherty tells WebMD. “Some patients are over a year and a half and cruising to two years. In melanoma, that is good. … The average time for standard treatment is two months.”

There is a catch. The drug targets a specific genetic mutation that helps melanoma tumor cells grow. Some 40% to 60% of melanoma patients have tumors with this mutation.

For those who don’t, the drug offers no help and possible harm. Fortunately, a simple genetic test identifies patients likely to respond to the drug.

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