A new trial suggests a combination of two cancer drugs can shrink tumours in 60 percent of people with advanced melanoma.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer, killing over 2,000 people in the UK every year.
The trial on 945 people showed that taking ipilimumab and nivolumab at the same time shrank tumours by at least a third in 58 percent of patients, with the tumours stable or shrinking for an average of just under a year.
Taking the brakes off the immune system
Although the immune system is a powerful defence against infection, it has ‘brakes’ built in to stop the system attacking our own tissues. Given the fact cancer is a corrupt version of a healthy tissue it can take advantage of these brakes and evade assault from the immune system.
The drugs used in the trial both work by taking the brakes of the immune system.
Dr James Larkin, a consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital and one of the UK's lead investigators, told BBC News, "By giving these drugs together you are effectively taking two brakes off the immune system rather than one so the immune system is able to recognise tumours it wasn't previously recognising and react to that and destroy them.
"For immunotherapies, we've never seen tumour shrinkage rates over 50% so that's very significant to see.
"This is a treatment modality that I think is going to have a big future for the treatment of cancer."
Dr Alan Worsley, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, said, "This research suggests that we could give a powerful one-two punch against advanced melanoma by combining immunotherapy treatments.
"Together these drugs could release the brakes on the immune system while blocking cancer's ability to hide from it.
"But combining these treatments also increases the likelihood of potentially quite severe side effects.
"Identifying which patients are most likely to benefit will be key to bringing our best weapons to bear against the disease."
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