“The approval of ipilimumab (branded Yervoy) by the FDA means that for the first time in 40 years there is a new treatment option in melanoma” said Dr James Larkin, a consultant oncologist from the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, one of the centres involved in trialing the new drug.
Yervoy is a novel type of immunotherapy cancer drug that works by taking the brakes off the body’s immune system so it can launch a full scale assault on the cancer. This approach is totally different from conventional chemotherapy’s mechanism of killing cells as they divide.
The FDA reached their decision based on a clinical trial which highlighted patients with metastatic melanoma treated with Yervoy lived a median of about 10 months, compared to 6.4 months for patients in the control group who received a vaccine believed to have little effect on survival.
More than 20% of the people who received Yervoy in the clinical trial lived at least two years and some of them much longer. Currently there is no way of predicting which patients will benefit most from the drug.