Archive for August, 2011

More Hope for Melanoma Patients in a Year of Milestones

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Treatment options for melanoma have advanced in the past year with heartening results.  As we wrote in March 2011, the drug Yervoy (ipilimumab or “ipi”) appears to be successful for a small group of patients with inoperable, metastatic melanoma in extending survival.  In fact, WebMD says that “Yervoy … is the first drug ever shown to help late-stage melanoma patients live longer.”

Now, there’s more news to be hopeful about on the pharma front with potentially greater results: The FDA has also given the go-ahead to a drug called ZELBORAF (vemurafenib, pronounced vem-yoo-RAF-en-ib).   A comprehensive overview by ABC News offers a clear explanation of how Zelboraf attacks a genetic mutation (known as BRAF V600E) which is found in about half of melanoma patients, inhibiting the disease’s ability to spread.

We now have the capability to analyze a patient’s melanoma tumor for the genetic mutation BRAF and use the targeted treatment Zelboraf to attack the tumor, shrink it and stop the progression of this deadly disease,” said Dr. Anna Pavlick, director of the NYU Melanoma Program at the NYU Cancer Institute, who has been involved in clinical trials for Zelboraf. …Zelboraf shuts down the abnormal signals of the tumor cells that are caused by the genetic mutation and stops the cells from dividing, without affecting healthy cells.

At the same time, the FDA approved a genetic test to determine if patients carry the mutation since only those with the abnormal “BRAF” gene can take Zelboraf.  Interestingly, since the same genetic mutation is found in those with other forms of cancer, there may be future help from this drug beyond skin cancer and is now, for example, being tested on thyroid cancer patients.

This is the fastest the FDA has ever approved a drug to come to market – in just five years.  And even better: Zelboraf, which is a first-in-class drug, is anticipated to be available in the next two weeks.

There are differences between Yervoy and Zelboraf.   As described in the coverage by the SF Chronicle,

Yervoy was found to extend patients’ lives, an improvement over many current treatments. However, the drug works for less than 20 percent of patients, and doctors say they can’t predict which patients will find it most effective.

Zelboraf was clinically effective in 50 percent of patients [with the] specific genetic mutation … Most of the therapies for melanoma work for less than 20 percent of patients, and some fall into single digits.

Neither Zelboraf nor Yervoy cure melanoma.  And as a patient who had great success in a clinical trial for the new drug said, “there’s nothing that says this medication will help you forever.”  But these drugs bring hope for a longer life, and as new therapies come along the melanoma pipeline, there is reason to be optimistic.

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Interesting Read…

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Just a quick post here: We’ve been hearing from friends that this Pulitzer Prize winner is a very compelling read:

Emperor of all Maladies

Emperor of all Maladies

As one friend wrote of “The Emperor of all Maladies”: “May sound depressing but it’s not. It’s fascinating and feels (so far) like a must-read for anyone who has had cancer or been touched by someone who did. Said another way, EVERYONE.”

The official description:

“…a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.”

Have you read it?  What are your thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.

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Olé! A Toast to Spanish Researchers

Friday, August 5th, 2011

We’ve read, with grape expectations (!) about the anti-oxidant benefits of red wine…when consumed in moderation, of course, darn it.  In this Mayo Clinic report, for example, the possibility was discussed that resveratol — a polyphenol in the wine — offers some benefit to your heart.  Now, scientists from the University of Barcelona and the CSIC have shown that a compound found in grapes or grape derivatives may protect skin cells from skin-damaging ultraviolet radiation.

Here’s how it may work, as described by

When UV rays hit your skin, they activate “reactive oxygen species,” or ROS, which then oxidize big molecules like lipids and DNA. This activates particular enzymes that kill skin cells. But grapes’ flavonoids work to decrease the formation of the ROS’s in skin cells that were exposed to UVA and UVB rays.

Basically, the thinking is that the flavonoids in grapes help halt the chemical reaction that kills skin cells leading to skin cancers and melanoma, and causes sun damage.

The catch? Consume as you will, but the researchers will be applying their findings to the development of new photoprotection skin products, sun-shielding drugs and cosmetics.


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