“Fundamental research — much of it done in Boston — has led to a shift in the scientific strategy for fighting some cancers, toward using drugs to activate a patient’s own immune system. An approach that was on the fringes of cancer therapy is suddenly the hottest trend in cancer drug development. On Monday, for example, Boston researchers presented data showing that nearly half of patients with advanced melanoma lived for two years after getting an experimental immune therapy called nivolumab, though multiple other therapies hadn’t worked for them. And drug companies have announced several deals recently to acquire companies developing immunotherapies. The frenzy of activity is an abrupt change for a field that had made big promises but failed to deliver for years.”
People with melanoma could have a new treatment option soon ─ Merck is applying for a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) license for a new experimental immunotherapy for this skin cancer. Called MK-3475, the treatment blocks a protein (PD-1) that lets tumor cells evade the immune system. The FDA fast-tracked its review of MK-3475 in 2013 on the strength of clinical trials showing that this drug may extend life in people with melanoma by a year. Merck says the FDA application should be complete in the first half of 2014.
An experimental immunotherapy may keep people with melanoma alive for up to 1 year, according to findings presented at the 2013 International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The drug (MK-3475) blocks a protein, called PD-1, that lets cancer cells evade the immune system. Researchers treated 135 people with MK-3475 and found that tumors shrank in 40% and disappeared in 9%. Altogether, this drug is being tested in more than 3,000 people with melanoma or breast, bladder, colorectal, or lung cancer. In addition, another experimental PD-1 blocker called nivolumab is being tested alone and in combination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Yervoy (ipilimumab) against melanoma and blood, breast, gastric, kidney, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers.