As one of the deadliest cancers in the world, melanoma can rapidly spread from the skin to important internal organs, such as the brain. Bristol-Myers Squibb has been developing a new drug, ipilimumab, to treat patients who suffer from the advanced stages of this disease.

Ipilimumab aids the activation of the immune system's T-cells in order to fight the cancer. The results of a study that analyze the effects of the drug on advanced melanoma patients are very impressive:


  • More than twenty percent of patients were alive after two years, after taking the drug.

  • Median survival for patients who received the drug was higher than that of patients who received an experimental cancer vaccine.

  • The drug was extremely effective for twenty to thirty percent of patients.

"Once [melanoma] metastasizes, the average survival is six to nine months, and we really had no effective treatments for patients who have had prior treatment for melanoma," said Dr. Steven O'Day, the director of the melanoma program at the Angeles Clinic and Research Institute. "[Ipilimumab] is impacting survival, which is the gold standard in cancer clinical trials."

Unfortunately, as promising as the results of this experiment are, ipilimumab does carry serious side effects:


  • Two out of three patients who received the drug had immune related side effects.

  • Ten to fourteen percent of the patients experienced serious side effects, such as colitis, after taking the drug.

  • Two to three percent of the patients suffered treatment related death because of significant immune system side effects.

However, Dr. O'Day claimed that these side effects could be managed. The most common side effects were completely reversible. Serious side effects, such as colitis, could be treated with steroids and immunosuppressive therapy.

As long as doctors closely monitor the melanoma patients' reactions to the drug, ipilimumab can give patients and their loved ones hope that their conditions can be reversed. For more information about melanoma, please visit the American Cancer Society's detailed guide [http://www.acsevents.org/docroot/CRI/CRI_2_3x.asp?rnav=cridg&dt=39].

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