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New melanoma drug stirs excitement

The test results are early—and sponsored by the drug manufacturer—but scientists and journalists alike are excited about the prospects of a new drug for treating deadly skin cancer.

Yale oncologist Mario Sznol called the medication, nivolumab, "a real breakthrough drug for patients with metastatic melanoma, and probably for other diseases, too." Quoted in another article, he went even further: “I do think some of the people are cured.” The headline: "Death Sentence No Longer a Given for Patients With Melanoma."

Presenting experimental data over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, Sznol reported that nivolumab, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, combined with another drug called ipilimumab to produce "rapid and deep tumor regressions in approximately 30 percent of patients" with advanced melanoma.

Both drugs enlist the immune system to fight tumors the way it normally fights infections—a departure from conventional chemotherapy, which essentially tries to poison the cancer cells.

Researchers like Sznol see this approach as the future of cancer treatment: “If you look five years out, most of this meeting will be about immunotherapy,” he told the New York Times

At least one news account injects a note of caution, saying that "only time will tell if nivolumab is truly a breakthrough."

Filed under melanoma, Mario Sznol
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