Study: BMS drug works in untreated melanoma patients

Bristol-Myers Squibb's new melanoma drug got another data boost over the weekend. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, researchers presented a study showing the drug extended survival time in previously untreated patients. That's on top of a previous trial--the one that underlay its FDA approval--demonstrating a survival benefit with Yervoy as a second-line treatment.

As the New York Times reports, Yervoy patients survived about two months longer. Indeed, median survival was about 11 months in the Yervoy group, compared with about nine months in the control group. The overall number wasn't as impressive as some experts had predicted, the Times notes, but in a small number of patients, the benefit was much larger.

Some up-and-coming melanoma candidates also turned in strong performances, including a drug that's expected to hit the market by year's end. That's the Roche/Daiichi Sankyo drug vemurafenib, which also showed a survival benefit. In one trial, 84 percent of patients using the drug were alive after six months, compared with 64 percent in the chemo group.

Doctors are thinking that combining Yervoy with this drug might help patients even more. While Yervoy works by stimulating the immune system, vemurafenib targets a gene mutation found in about half of melanomas. The companies recently announced they'd team up for a trail of the two-drug combo.

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