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Drug breakthrough for advanced skin cancer

5 Jun 2018 at 12:00 AM

Australian doctors have made a breakthrough in the treatment of patients with an advanced form of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a very common form of skin cancer and in most cases easily cured with surgery and/or radiotherapy.

For a small percentage of patients (five per cent), however, the cancer recurs and spreads, killing several hundred people every year in Australia due to a lack of effective therapies.

Immunotherapy drug Cemiplimab has now offered a lifeline to these patients.

A phase II clinical trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed nearly half (47 per cent ) of the 59 patients on the trial had a good response, reporting a major shrinkage of the tumour.

Trial lead, Professor Danny Rischin at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre says the response was rapid, sustained and very well tolerated.

"What was quite striking is how quickly people got better, many of these patients dramatically improved in the space of the first few weeks," he said.

Prof Rischin said the drug offers a treatment option when there wasn't one before.

At the beginning of the trial some patients only had six months to live.

Now they are back to cycling long distances and managing busy farms, said Prof Rischin.

"We have patients who were in a desperate situation who are now nearly two years down the track and leading normal lives," he said.

The oncologist says it's likely Cemiplimab will become the new standard of care for this cancer with the drug currently under "priority review" by the US Food and Drug Administration.

However, it may be some time before it becomes financially viable for Australian patients, cautioned Prof Rischin.


The original version of this article appeared here. 


Category: Rare Cancers in the News
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