St. Luke's University Health Network


Breakthrough Drug for Melanoma

St. Luke’s Cancer Center to Offer Breakthrough Drug for Melanoma

St. Luke’s is the Only Hospital in the Region to Offer Ipilimumab in Compassionate Use Trial

Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala

Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala
Chief of Oncology &
St. Luke's Cancer

Bethlehem, PA (7/19/2010) – Patients seeking additional options in their fight against advanced melanoma may be candidates for a compassionate use trial with the experimental drug ipilimumab (ip-ee-LIM-uh-mab) at St. Luke’s Cancer Center. Recently, this drug was shown to improve survival in a major study of 676 people with previously treated metastatic melanoma. This Phase 3 study is the first melanoma trial ever to have demonstrated a significant increase in survival (from 6.4 months to 10 months) and is therefore a major breakthrough in this disease.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and, currently, there are no approved treatment options for those patients who have received prior treatment for the disease, according to Sanjiv Agarwala, MD, Chief of Oncology & Hematology for St. Luke’s Cancer Center. “The results of this study will very well change that,” he says. An internationally recognized melanoma investigator, Dr. Agarwala expects this agent will receive approval by the Food & Drug Administration in a year.

Dr. Agarwala served as a co-investigator in randomized clinical trials for melanoma with ipilimumab and is starting to accept patients into the compassionate use trial with the drug at St. Luke’s. “We are the only ones in the area to offer this,” he says.

This study is exciting in that ipilimumab shows the potential of harnessing the immune system to fight deadly diseases like metastatic melanoma, according to Dr. Agarwala. He also, is involved in an immune therapy clinical trial for prostate cancer using this same drug and hopes for similar results. “We are hopeful that ipilimumab will have notable benefits for patients with advanced prostate cancer as well,” he says.

For more information on the Compassionate Use Trial at St. Luke’s, contact study coordinators Denise Dianna at 610-954-3426 or Rose Cabral at 610-954-6013.

About Melanoma

More than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. While melanoma accounts for less than five percent of all skin cancers, it is the most deadly of them. Melanoma occurs in the cells that color the skin. It may appear as a new growth or as a change in the size, shape or color of an existing mole.

Melanoma is the leading cause of skin cancer-related deaths, because it may spread to other areas of the body through the lymph or blood systems. Sixty to seventy percent of melanomas are discovered by the people who have them, so it is important to check the skin for moles that change in shape, size, color, or begin to itch or bleed. When discovered early, melanoma may be treated effectively with surgical removal.

About Dr. Agarwala

Dr. Agarwala serves as the Section Chief of Hematology and Oncology for St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network and St. Luke’s Cancer Center. An internationally recognized expert in the field of melanoma and immunotherapy, he has led promising clinical trials of immunotherapy and targeted therapy in melanoma.

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