22 May 2012

New drug may help melanoma patients

5:31 am on 22 May 2012

Australian researchers say a new drug could help prolong the lives of people with advanced melanoma.

The medication was tested on 46 skin cancer patients, including 10 where the disease had spread to the brain, and 22 non-melanoma patients.

Dabrafenib targets a genetic mutation known as BRAF that is found in half of all melanomas.

In a small group of patients where the melanoma had spread to their brains, dabrafenib shrank the tumours in 90% of cases.

Study co-author Dr Georgina Long from Westmead Hospital in Sydney says it is a big step forward in potential treatment for those with few options.

''We had to push to do that cohort because classically they have such a poor prognosis,'' she said.

''I mean 50% of them, half of them, die within the first four months of diagnosis and so they've been excluded from clinical trials.

''We had to push to create this small cohort to see if we could see activity of this drug in the melanoma that had spread to the brain.''

Experts not involved in the trial also said the drug showed promise.

In a commentary in The Lancet, US cancer researchers Geoffrey Gibney and Vernon Sondak described the results as "impressive" and "encouraging".

Melanoma is diagnosed in nearly 160,000 people worldwide each year, and Australia has the highest incidence in the world.