Today is Melanoma Monday and what better way to mark this day of understanding and advocacy about the deadliest form of skin cancer than by celebrating recent progress made in its treatment. Much of that headway revolves around immunotherapy drugs, a class of drugs that provokes the body into attacking cancer cells.
Yervoy (ipilimumab ) is one such drug that broke out onto the scene in 2011, a full five years after my father passed away from melanoma. The drug was the first to extend survival in advanced melanoma patients. While my father did in fact “hitchhike” from one clinical trial to the next, which bought him six very active years of life after his melanoma metastasized, sadly, he was not able to take full advantage of this new generation of treatments, some of which are paving the way, as some researchers are saying, to a clinical cure.
Anti-PD1 and anti-PDL1 are a new generation of immunotherapy drugs being tested alone and in combination with Yervoy, which, despite all of the excitement surrounding it, extends survival by a mere four months. Others, such as nivolumab, are being studied in late-stage trials, while lambrolizumab and MPDL3280A are being tested in early-stage trials. The hope is that some potent cocktail of these immunotherapy drugs will be the winning combination for some or all patients. What an unbelievable moment in science that will be. Until then, here’s to those who are bravely hitchhiking their way through melanoma with hope and fortitude…and to those whose journeys have ended.
For more information on Melanoma Monday, visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s website. And stay tuned for more exciting news in melanoma at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting at the end of this month.