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'Game Changing' Drug For Melanoma Approved By FDA

Update Date: Sep 05, 2014 09:01 AM EDT

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new immunotherapy drug to treat advanced melanoma.

The drug named, Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was tested on more than 600 patients suffering from melanoma. Researchers observed significant long-lasting responses on patients and hence the study was continued. Eventually, FDA granted the drug "breakthrough therapy" status.

Keytruda is an antibody also known as MK-3475. It targets a protein called PD-1 that is expressed by immune cells. The protein puts the immune system's brakes on, keeping its T cells from recognizing and attacking cancer cells, explained Dr. Antoni Ribas, the study's principal investigator and a professor of medicine in the division of hematology-oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in the press release.

"This drug is a game changer, a very significant advance in the treatment of melanoma," said Ribas, who also is a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. "For patients who have not responded to prior therapies, this drug now provides a very real chance to shrink their tumors and the hope of a lasting response to treatment."

Judith Gasson, senior associate dean for research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the Jonsson Cancer Center, said researchers have long hoped to develop an effective and lasting immunotherapy to fight cancer.

"We have long believed that harnessing the power of our own immune systems would dramatically alter cancer treatment," she said in the press release. "Based upon work conducted over the past two decades, we are beginning to see the clinical benefits of this research in some of the most challenging cancers."

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