Five-year melanoma survival boost with drug combo

A combination of two immunotherapy drugs can increase overall survival in advanced melanoma to over 50% at five years.

The results of the CheckMate 067 trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine (DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1910836) show that overall survival at five years was 52% in the group receiving the combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab, compared to 44% in the nivolumab only group, and 26% in the ipilimumab only group.

Health-related quality of life was maintained and no new toxic effects were seen in this long-term ongoing trial.

Both of the drugs, developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, stimulate the body’s immune system to find and destroy cancer cells. Before the development of immunotherapy, survival with advanced melanoma was measured in months. Melanoma kills around 2300 people every year.

Professor James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, says: ‘In the past, metastatic melanoma was regarded as untreatable. This is the first time we can say that the chances of being a long-term survivor of advanced melanoma are now over 50%, which is a huge milestone.’

However, Professor Larkin warned that there is currently no way to predict which patients are most likely to benefit from combination immunotherapy. ‘The decision on which treatments to give is a matter for doctors to discuss with individual patients and their families,’ he said. ‘The two drugs together definitely have a role in treating metastatic melanoma and will be the choice for some patients. For others, the decision may be to give the drugs in sequence.’

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