Melanoma Drug Combo Shows Promise

Nivolumab and ipilmumab help immune system to shrink tumors.

Nivolumab and ipilmumab help immune system to shrink tumors.

A drug combination for the treatment of melanoma showed significantly promising results during a recent clinical trial.

Nivolumab and ipilmumab caused tumors to shrink in 61% of patients enrolled, while tumors disappeared completely in 22% of patients.

"This is a revolutionary therapy," study lead Montaser Shaheen, MD, said in a press release. "The efficacy is dramatic for melanoma. More than 70% [of people treated] benefit."

Ipilmumab disables CTLA-4 receptors on the surface of melanoma cells, which researchers said removes the invisibility cloak of tumors to prompt the immune system to attack the tumor cells. Nivolumab blocks PD-1 receptors on cytotoxic T-cells, which prompts the immune system to attack cancer cells.

"By giving the drugs together, you give a much higher benefit to patients," Dr. Shaheen said.

While the immune system attacks cancer cells as a primary target, some patients experience immune-mediated side effects from the drugs, with diarrhea the most frequent side effect in the clinical trial.

Doctors used the steroid drug prednisone to manage diarrhea since it does not suppress the reaction against the tumor. The researchers noted that the side effects stopped when the treatments stopped, while some patients in the trial are still in full remission.

"The cool thing about immune therapy is its durability," Dr. Shaheen said. "For the first time in history, we can talk about a potential cure for a subset of patients with metastatic melanoma."