Zelboraf: May Extend Metastatic Melanoma Survival Rate

New Melanoma Drug Offers Some Hope

There's new hope on the horizon for people who have advanced melanoma, or metastatic melanoma. According to a report from the New York Times, a new drug has been found to improve the survival rate of patients who have this form of skin cancer. In a clinical studies, the results indicated that the drug nearly doubled the length of time the patient survived from metastatic melanoma.

The drug is called Zelboraf, and is manufactured by a company called Genentech. Genentech is a United States subsidiary of Roche, a large Swiss pharmaceutical firm. The drug won the Food and Drug Administration last August (2011), and represented the first new treatment for melanoma skin cancer in over 10 years.

The typical survival rate for patients who have melanoma which has spread to other organs is nine months. But results of the study for which people took Zelboraf showed that the survival period lasted an average of 15.9 months -- almost double.

The drug appears to work better than chemotherapy, and is able to shrink melanomas. Zelboraf is taken two times per day. It blocks a specific protein that is associated with cell growth of tumors with a certain gene mutation, which is called BRAF V600E.

According to the report, tumors shrunk by more than 30 percent in approximately 53 percent of the individuals who had the mutations.  Another 30 percent of patients saw their tumors decrease, but not by more than 30 percent as the other group did. Fourteen percent of the patients didn't see a response from Zelboraf.

Patients did appear to become resistant to the drug, but scientists are working on finding out the reason why, and what to do about it.

Since only about 10 percent of advanced melanoma patients elicit a response from other therapies, Zelboraf offers hope. Over 68,000 new cases of melanoma were seen in the U.S. in 2010, and over 8,000 patients died from it, says the National Cancer Institute. Further, over 80 percent of the 66,000 annual deaths worldwide are associated with melanoma.