Metastatic Melanoma Rx Increases Life Expectancy

Melanoma drug Zelboraf extends lives

(RxWiki News) Metastatic melanoma has a recently approved treatment option - Zelboraf (vemurafenib). That's the good news. The even better news is that recent research has discovered this medication extends the lives of patients taking it.

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, collaborating with other scientists in the United States and Australia, have discovered that Zelboraf nearly doubles life expectancy.

This research will change the way advanced metastatic melanoma is treated.

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The findings come from a Phase II trial which followed 132 people taking the medication for at least 12 months.

People with later stages of melanoma that has metastasized (spread) to other organs usually live about nine months. Individuals taking Zelboraf lived an average of nearly 16 months, according to senior study author, Dr. Antoni Ribas, a professor of hematology/oncology and a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center.

"This study shows that Zelboraf changes the natural history of this disease," Ribas said. "This data is beyond what I would have expected. We're seeing a significant number of patients with durable responses to the drug, and that the whole group of treated patients is living longer," he said. 

About half of the roughly 8,000 people who develop metastatic melanoma every year have a mutation in the BRAF gene, which Zelboraf targets. The medicine is taken as a pill twice daily.

Of the people taking the medication, 53 percent see a shrinking of their tumors by more than 30 percent, and another 30 percent see shrinkage of less than that. Only 14 percent of patients do not respond to Zelboraf.

Before this medicine became available, only about 10 percent of people with advanced melanoma responded to any treatment.

The main weakness of this drug is that tumors eventually stop responding to it. Jonsson researchers are studying the mechanisms behind this resistance and looking for agents to target them.

Meanwhile, Ribas says, "These results tell us that this drug is having a very big impact, and this changes the way we treat metastatic melanoma."

Zelboraf was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August, 2011. A month's supply of the medicine costs about $9,400.

The study was published Feb. 23, 2012 in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine.