A pair of immunotherapy drugs successfully eliminated 20 percent of tumors in a new study. In a clinical trial that consisted of 142 participants, 69 percent of the advanced melanoma patients who took the immunotherapy drug combo were still living after two years.

Doctors in the United Kingdom who led the clinical trial using a combination of immunotherapy drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab said the findings were "very encouraging."

Both immunotherapy drugs have been separately used in standard melanoma therapies before. Several researchers suggest that a drug combo could be beneficial to advanced melanoma patients.

For instance, the trial patients who used ipilimumab alone had a two-year survival rate of 53 percent, but the one-drug treatment was not able to eliminate any of the patients' tumors completely.

On the other hand, the immunotherapy drug combo's survival rate for patients was 69 percent. Most notably, the two-drug therapy was able to eliminate 22 percent of the patients' tumors. Bristol-Myers Squibb developed the two drugs used in the clinical trial.

Unfortunately, over half of the participants suffered from severe side effects, some of which were life-threatening. These side effects halted their two-drug treatment.

"We need to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from this combination and also which patients are most likely to experience the side effects," commented Cancer Research UK's Professor Richard Marais.

Identifying these patient clusters will help doctors ensure that they are giving the best possible treatment for advanced melanoma patients.

According to Cancer Research UK, approximately 13,500 people receive a diagnosis of melanoma annually. In Great Britain, the current skin cancer rates are more than four times higher compared to the rates in the 1970s. Melanoma is now the second most common type of cancer in people aged 50 and below.

Globally, a recent study found that New Zealand has the highest numbers of invasive melanoma cases, beating out Australia whose melanoma rates have been on a steady decrease since 2005.

Melanoma experts said the increasing rates in New Zealand are the result of the government's lack of commitment to tackle the rising problem for more than 10 years.

Photo: Andres Rueda | Flickr

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