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Immunotherapy agents set to transform melanoma treatment

Immunotherapy agents set to transform melanoma treatment

Speaking at the national Melanoma Summit in Auckland, a Los Angeles-based melanoma expert has told delegates that a new class of anti-cancer agents, known as immunotherapies, is transforming the treatment of patients with metastatic melanoma – melanoma that has spread throughout the body.

Antoni Ribas, Professor of Medicine, Surgery, and Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles, has been the lead investigator on several large clinical trials of cutting-edge cancer treatments, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies.

Targeted therapies include BRAF and MEK inhibitors, such as vemurafenib, cobemetinib, dabrafenib and trametinib, which more precisely identify and kill cancer cells. Immunotherapies use the body’s own immune system to attack the tumour.

One group of immunotherapy agents, including the drugs pembrolizumab and nivolumab, bind to and block a molecule called PD-1 to “take the brakes off” the immune system and allow the body to detect and destroy cancer cells.

Professor Ribas says that although targeted therapies were an important advance in cancer treatment and the majority of patients obtain benefit from these agents, at least initially, there is growing evidence that immunotherapy drugs are better than other treatment strategies for a subset of patients with metastatic melanoma.

“Some patients are going for years without a relapse. We’re very conservative about how we call things, but it’s possible that some are cured.”

There is also the potential to use immunotherapies in combination with targeted agents and chemotherapy to achieve an even better response.

Professor Ribas says the advances in melanoma treatment didn’t happen by chance.

“We’re taking science from the lab to the patient and starting a series of combination studies to be able to overcome the barriers for patients who don’t respond.

“In addition to melanoma, immunotherapy has potential in a wide range of other cancers; clinical trials have studied immunotherapy agents in 30 different types of cancer, with evidence of activity in 15 of these.”


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