Clinical trials of a new drug cocktail have been shown to cure 58 percent of terminally-ill patients by shrinking cancerous tumors or eliminating them altogether. The scientific community is hailing this discovery as a major breakthrough in cancer research.
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The new cocktail is a form of immunotherapy, a relatively new class of drugs that harness the body’s immune system to extinguish fatal tumors. Israeli researcher Prof. Jacob Schachter, who took part in the development of the drug and in the recent clinical trials, told Israel’s Channel 10 that the newfound drug cocktail could serve as the basis of treatment for many types of cancer, potentially replacing chemotherapy. “It’s an explosion,” he said.
In one of the trials, over half of the terminally ill patients saw their tumors shrink or disappear completely. The drug, which was developed by a team led by Schachter, was used in an international study led by Dr. James Larkin of UK’s Royal Marsden Hospital. The results of the study were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The worldwide clinical trial involved 945 patients, suffering from advanced (or metastatic) melanoma, which causes 55,000 deaths annually and is considered the deadliest type of skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Since melanoma is typically treated by chemotherapy, radiations and/or surgery, this cocktail gives new hope to thousands of families.
“Significantly more effective”
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), to whom Schachter and his colleagues from around the globe presented their findings this week, for patients with previously untreated advanced melanoma, the combination of immunotherapy drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab were “significantly more effective at delaying cancer progression than ipilimumab alone.”
The two drugs were previously used separately, but the groundbreaking study shows that combining them leads to much better results. This study “provides a powerful new immunotherapy option for patients with melanoma,” according to the ASCO.
Schachter, head of the Ella Institute at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 10 that the side effects of this new drug are fewer than those of chemotherapy. It’s important to note, however, that the new drug is still experimental at this stage, and is not available on the market.
The melanoma findings were among several cancer studies presented this week at ASCO’s annual meeting in Chicago. “These advances are expected to immediately influence oncology practice, leading to improved survival and quality of life for patients,” ASCO said in a statement.