New gene-targeted drug offers hope in skin cancer

Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:51am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler and Kate Kelland

BERLIN (Reuters) - Scientists offered new hope in the fight against the most deadly type of skin cancer on Wednesday as an early-stage clinical trial showed an experimental drug dramatically shrank tumors.

Another study also found Roche's established cancer drug Avastin had promise in treating melanoma, but it failed to show a statistically significant improvement in survival.

Paul Chapman from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York said 70 percent of patients with a particular gene mutation saw their tumors shrink when given the new pill, called PLX4032.

"To put that into context, chemotherapy is about 13 to 15 percent, and that's where we have been stuck with conventional treatments," he said at the ECCO-ESMO cancer congress in Berlin.

Of the 27 patients evaluated in the small Phase I study, two responded completely and signs of their disease disappeared.

Preliminary findings with the new drug were first reported in June but the data from more patients have boosted confidence in its prospects.

Chapman and his colleagues are planning a Phase II trial of 90 patients starting at the end of 2009, and a large international Phase III trial involving several hundred patients is planned to start in late 2009 or early 2010.

Alexander Eggermont, president of the European Cancer Organization, described the trial as "simply spectacular" and said it showed the benefits of targeting treatment.   Continued...

<p>A tourist sunbathes at Illetas beach on the Balearic island of Mallorca June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Dani Cardona</p>