Doctors Encouraged by Melanoma Drug

BOSTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) — An experimental drug treatment for advanced melanoma, a disease that often kills sufferers within nine months, has encouraged medical professionals, they say.

The drug PLX4032 doesn’t cure the disease and is effective only for the approximately 50 percent of patients whose tumors have a key gene mutation, but in those patients 80 percent saw their tumors shrink, USA Today reported Wednesday.

Doctors say new therapies including PLX4032 could lead to a time when they might be able to keep melanoma patients alive for years, treating the tumor like a chronic disease.

“This is the most important breakthrough in melanoma, ever,” says Lynn Schuchter of the University of Pennsylvania, who worked on the study.

Until recently, melanoma sufferers have had few treatment options.

The last new treatment for advanced melanoma was approved 12 years ago, Timothy Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, said.

Researchers are already developing several other drugs similar to PLX4032, Turnham says, which could be key to preventing relapses. Although cancer often can mutate to get around one drug, the disease might have a harder time overcoming two, three or four different treatments.

One day, lead study author Keith Flaherty of Massachusetts General Hospital says, doctors might routinely test patients’ tumors for their genetic makeup, then prescribe a drug combo to keep melanoma under control for years.

For now, the new drug “gives us something that we’ve never had before, which is to reverse the disease for a period of time and give people a respite,” he says. “But our goals are much loftier than that. We’re not just aiming to buy patients nine months.”

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