A trial, in which 655 patients with melanoma were given the drug pembrolizumab, has found that four in ten patients given the drug were still alive three years later. The study also highlighted that 15% of those studied showed no signs of cancer after three years.
The immune system has many "brakes" in place to ensure that it does not attack our own tissues. Cancer is able to take advantage of these brakes to stop the immune system from attacking it. Pembrolizumab, which is part of a new class of therapies called immunotherapies, stops cancers evading the immune system assault.
This study has shown extreme promise and it is thought will have a long-term benefit. Dr Caroline Robert, a researcher at the Gustave Roussy Institute in France, said: "Before 2011 advanced melanoma had a median overall survival of less than one year and things have changed a lot. What is really exciting is to see at three years the estimated survival rate is 40% and this is regardless of previous treatment."
Prof Peter Johnson, the chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's fantastic news that the benefits of this drug can last for years rather than months for patients with melanoma who until recently have had limited treatment options. Pembrolizumab, one of several new drugs that works by unveiling cancer cells to the immune system, has already been approved for use on the NHS for patients with melanoma."
Find out more here.