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New field of cancer treatment offers more hope to patients

Last Updated Nov 2, 2016 at 4:40 pm MDT


There is a new milestone in cancer care for the treatment of metastatic melanoma.

Doctors say Health Canada has given conditional approval for the first ever combination of two immuno-oncology agents — Opdivo and Yervoy.

Dr. Michael Smylie with the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton told 660NEWS, this class of drugs takes the brakes off the immune system.

“They’re called immune checkpoint inhibitors,” he said. “What they’ve [researchers] have done is they’ve combined the two drugs and they’ve seen that in metastatic melanoma, patients where the response rate, which is the number of patients that actually get a significant shrinkage of their tumour, was historically about 10 per cent. It’s gone up anywhere from about 50 to 70 per cent.”

He said they’ve gone from about a five per cent, five-year survival to close to 65 per cent and they’re probably curing a significant number of patients, which wasn’t possible before.

According to Dr. Smylie, previously, when people developed metastatic melanoma, there were no effective therapies and now doctors can offer potentially curative therapies to these patients.

“I think as we learn more and more about the immune system and develop more of these drugs, I think the possibilities are really endless for this type of treatment,” he said.