Melanoma drug: Lifesaver and game changer
More than 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year, and about 10,000 people in the U.S. will die from this form of skin cancer. Until now, there was no hope for melanoma that spread to other areas of the body. But for the first time, a new drug is changing the game and saving lives.
Three years ago, Tom Stutz could barely move, let alone play tennis.
“I didn’t play for about a year and a half,” Stutz said.
Tom had melanoma that spread to his lungs, liver, spine and shoulder, leaving him in constant pain.
“It got to the point where I was put on oxygen,” Stutz said.
Even Stutz’s best tennis buddies thought his days on the court were over.
“I saw him in a wheelchair, 24-hour care, and I said to myself, ‘I don’t think he’s going to last a month,’” said one friend, Tom Mertens.
Every medicine Stutz tried failed, until he enrolled in a clinical trial at UCLA to test a brand new therapy called Keytruda.
“I think it is a game changer,” said Dr. Antoni Ribas.
Keytruda is given as an infusion every three weeks. It targets a protein that allows the immune system to attack the cancer. The FDA approved the drug as a “breakthrough therapy” after a phase-one trial showed 72 percent of patients had their tumors shrink.
Tom’s tumors are 15 percent their original size. His friends are amazed by his recovery.
“I’m flabbergasted, stupefied, and thankful!” said one friend, Sidney Soffer.
And Stutz says he feels great.
Ribas says it’s very unusual for a drug to be approved by the FDA after a phase-one trial. Typically, medicines are approved after phase two or three studies. The therapy may also help lung, bladder and head and neck cancers, but researchers say further study is needed.