New drug cocktail reported to 'destroy advanced skin cancer'

A new combination of drugs has been eradicating all evidence of melanoma

Cancer, treatment, t cells, US, research, breakthrough, Stanley Riddell, Fred Hutchinson, Cancer Research Center

Image: YouTube/Fred Hutch

A new combination of smart drugs can destroy the deadliest form of skin cancer - even if it is diagnosed at a late stage, new research shows.

Results of the groundbreaking study reveal the cocktail of two drugs can wipe out all traces of melanoma in more than one in five patients, even if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Doctors have hailed the findings as "very promising".

The latest figures show more than 14,500 people in the UK developed melanoma in 2013, and 2,100 died.

Doctors gave 142 patients with advanced melanoma either the drug ipilimumab alone or in combination with a similar treatment called nivolumab.

Results of the study, called CheckMate, show 69% of patients given the combination were alive two years later, compared to 53% of those given ipilimumab alone.

And even more dramatically, the tumour was destroyed in 22% of patients when the two drugs were used together.
None of the patients who were given just ipilimumab had such a remarkable response.

Dr James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden Hospital said: "Combining these two immunotherapies is an effective two-pronged attack against the cancer. The overall survival rates … are very promising and provide further hope for patients and their families affected by this disease."

The findings were revealed at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The two drugs block the tumour's ability to neutralise key cells in the immune system, and the strategy allows the body to mount an all-out assault on the cancer.

But the combination has not yet been approved for use in the UK.

Ipilimumab has a list price of £63,000 for a course of just four infusions, while nivolumab costs £5,700 a month and is taken long term.

Dr Aine McCarthy from Cancer Research UK said: "We know both of these drugs are already available individually on the NHS so the next stage is to see whether the combination will be approved. With more clinical trials we can make sure the right patients get treatment, confirm it is safe and effective, and then think about the costs."

Lucy Davis, 39, said the drug combination had been "extraordinarily successful."

The mother-of-two told Sky News: "At my previous hospital, I was told I had months not years to live. It's two-and-a-half years later and I'm still very much here and feeling really quite well at the moment. I just wish everyone had access to this."