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  • Unprecedented Results in Treating Melanoma with Combination Immunotherapy
    A range of factors establishes an individual patient’s risk for developing skin cancer. Personal genetics, exposure to ultraviolet light, history of sunburn, and even contact with certain chemicals or viruses could contribute to melanoma development. Melanoma can develop in or near a previous precursor lesion site, or it could even develop in healthy skin. Skin Cancer Awareness Month is recognized annually in May, a prime opportunity to focus on skin health since many US individuals increase their outdoor activities and sun exposure once warmer weather arrives. Melanoma is most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. If caught early, the cancer is usually curable with only a 2% risk of death. However, metastatic melanoma can be extremely hard to treat, and fatality is possible. Nearly 100,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths are estimated to occur in 2022. Although melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, a recent new approval is giving renewed hope for patients with advanced melanoma to have improved quality of life and increased survival rates

    When melanocytes start to grow out of control due to damaged DNA, some can develop into cancerous cells. For unresectable stage III or IV melanoma, immunotherapy may be used. Studies have shown that combinations of immune checkpoint inhibitors may be even more effective at treating cancers, and the most recent approvals in melanoma have been combination therapies. Opdivo (nivolumab), in combination with Yervoy (ipilimumab), is indicated for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma. Together as a combination, the two drugs are more effective at delaying tumor growth and shrinking tumor size than if either is used alone. The drawback of certain combination therapy is the toxicity a patient may experience. The newest FDA approval from March 2022 is the combination therapy Opdualag (nivolumab/relatlimab-rmbw). As a fixed-dose combination of relatlimab, an LAG-3-blocking antibody and nivolumab, a PD-1 inhibitor, the pairing work in concert to control T cell response, thus promoting the host immune response in which the tumor cells are recognized as foreign and eliminated. Helping the immune system engage more effectively and allow T cells to attack melanoma cells is an enormous benefit to patients battling metastatic disease. Results from the study that led to the FDA approval showed the combination more than doubled the median progression-free survival rate for patients compared to treatment with nivolumab alone. These significant findings, combined with the fewer serious side effects than other combination regimens, amount to a welcome therapy option for patients.

    The broadening understanding and options within immunotherapy are revolutionizing how advanced melanoma is treated. There is still a significant unmet need in the drug market for patients with advanced disease, so potential approaches to treating melanoma and other challenging cancers are being researched to improve and save lives. Stay informed about emergent drug information, including immunotherapy treatment options for melanoma, by updating or registering your profile to receive email alerts and other critical drug information updates from PDR. You can also stay current by using the official PDR app, mobilePDR, available for free from your favorite app stores.