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Bristol's Opdivo shows positive results in cancer immunotherapy trial

A new study has found that over 33% of advanced melanoma patients treated in a study of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's Opdivo have survived at least five years.

The researchers said the findings provide new evidence of the durable benefit cancer immunotherapy agents on some patients. For the study, 107 patients were followed by the researchers. These patients were enrolled in an early trial of the drug which was approved in 2014 for melanoma by the US Food and Drug Administration. The study showed that at least thirty-four percent of the participants, all of whom had failed on other drugs, were still alive five years after treatment.

"This is a new benchmark for melanoma," said F. Stephen Hodi, director of the Melanoma Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and an investigator at Harvard Medical School's Ludwig Center.

The findings were presented by Dr Hodi at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in New Orleans. The AACR said a National Cancer Institute database shows that the five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with advanced melanoma between 2005 and 2011 was 16.6%.

Opdivo is one among three so-called checkpoint inhibitors currently on the market. Blocking the checkpoints releases molecular brakes, thus allowing immune system cells called T cells to attack cancer. Opdivo, and a rival called Keytruda from Merck & Co. target a brake called PD-1.

Yervoy was the first checkpoint inhibitor to reach the market. This drug was also manufactured by Bristol-Myers. "People who have good responses really seem to be protected against their disease returning in many cases," said Louis M. Weiner, director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Washington, D.C., who wasn't involved in the studies. "This is a mark of distinction in immunotherapy."

The researchers, however, noted that two-thirds of melanoma patients aren't as lucky. But the little success has definitely inspired the drug companies to look for cancer immunotherapy treatments.