Bristol drug may work in melanoma tumors in brain

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, May 20 (BestGrowthStock) – An experimental Bristol-Myers
Squibb Co (BMY.N: ) cancer drug showed early promise at helping
patients with advanced melanoma that had spread to the brain,
according to a summary of data from a mid-stage study.

The closely watched biotechnology drug ipilimumab, which
enlists the help of the immune system to attack tumors, was
found generally safe and showed signs that it was working on
tumors in the brain, which are especially difficult to treat.

The phase 2 study is the first to test ipilimumab in
patients whose skin cancer had spread to the brain, and the
findings, released in an abstract or brief summary, support its
potential use in these patients, the researchers said.

The abstract was one of thousands of studies released on
Thursday ahead of presentation at the American Society of
Clinical Oncology (ASCO) next month in Chicago.

Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody, an engineered
humanimmune system protein that boosts the body’s immune
response by interfering with another immune compound called
CTLA-4, which acts as a sort of brake on immune system cells.

By temporarily removing this brake, the hope is to unleash
the immune system to find and destroy the cancer.

Results of a late-stage study of the drug in melanoma
patients will be detailed in a “late-breaker” session at ASCO’s
annual meeting in June.

In the phase 2 trial, researchers said four out of 51
patients with at least one brain lesion had a partial response
to the drug, and in 5 out of 51 patients, both brain and other
tumors in the body stabilized after 12 weeks of treatment.

The responses lasted from three to 12 months, and patients
had no serious toxic side effects. Data from a second arm of
the study is still being evaluated.

A separate study of the drug also showed signs it could
work in people who first appeared not to respond to the
drug.

Researchers reintroduced the drug to 32 patients who were
initially treated as part of a study of 634 patients.

Eight of the 32 got ipilimumab alone, 23 got ipilimumab
plus a vaccine called gp100, and one got the vaccine alone. All
of the treatments appeared safe.

The team found that in patients whose cancer initially
progressed while on ipilimumab, whose who were reintroduced to
the drug had a disease control rate of 65 to 75 percent,
compared to zero in the patient who got the vaccine only.

“These findings may have implications for the use of
ipilimumab therapy in the long-term management of advanced
melanoma,” the researchers reported in the abstract.

Melanoma accounts for about 3 percent of skin cancer cases
but causes most skin cancer deaths, and doctors have few
effective treatments to offer once the disease has spread.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma
accounted for more than 68,000 cases of skin cancer in 2009,
and 8,650 deaths.

Investing Analysis

(Editing by Bernard Orr)

Bristol drug may work in melanoma tumors in brain