Monday, September 20, 2010

Flicker of light

Two promising new drugs for advanced melanoma have made big news in recent months. That’s a welcome development, as it’s been more than a decade since the last drug for this cancer was approved by the FDA—and it's only of marginal benefit to a small percentage of patients.

An article in today's New York Times describes ethical concerns about research protocols that deny some people who are dying from melanoma access to PLX4032, which The New England Journal of Medicine called “a major breakthrough” for this patient cohort. Unfortunately, it appears the drug won’t be available for general use for at least two years while a phase 3 clinical trial is completed, which everyone hopes shows some benefit for extending life. It's already been shown to temporarily hold metastatic tumors in check.

The fact that such a controversy should arise over a drug that buys so little time speaks volumes for how desperate research oncologists are to identify anything that's potentially useful to patients with advanced melanoma. Even with PLX4032 and ipilimumab, the other new drug on the horizon, the light remains pretty dim in this corner of cancer R&D. Hope flickers, but the shadows remain deep and long.

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