Yervoy, which is in injectable format, is the first melanoma drug approved in nearly 13 years and is only the third drug ever approved by the FDA for this disease. Neither of the others was shown to do very well in extending victim’s lives, but Yervoy shows great promise in this area.
Patients that received Yervoy in tests lived on average about four months longer that the ones who received the older medications. Researchers say this is a major breakthrough in treating melanoma, which sometimes proves to be unresponsive to therapy.
Yervoy is one of a group of cancer medications that use the body’s immune system to fight off cancer, instead of fighting the disease through outside chemicals like chemotherapy drugs do. It works by blocking a molecule that’s linked to melanoma called CTLA-4, which interferes with the defensive action of white blood cells. When the CTLA-4 molecule is blocked, the cells act normally and lend a hand fighting off the cancer cells.
The study involved 676 patients who had advanced and inoperable skin cancer and had had no results with the two other treatments. One patient in the study that was found to have late-stage melanoma in 2008 had previously tried both conventional and alternative medicines before starting therapy with Yervoy last September. He got four infusions of the drug every three weeks through November, which is the prescribed way of dosing patients. Now, his scans show the tumors have gone inactive.
Yervoy does have a few side effects, including: diarrhea, colon swelling, rash and tiredness. It was found to sometimes cause a fatal immune system reaction. Other possible severe reactions included inflammations of the colon and small intestine, liver, and skin, in addition to nerve damage and endocrine disease.