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Bristol’s Yervoy Adds Up to 10 Years of Life for Cancer Patients

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s skin cancer drug Yervoy extends the lives of patients by as much as 10 years, in the first study to show the treatment’s effect on long-term survival.

An analysis of more than 1,800 patients from 12 trials showed that 22 percent were still alive three years after treatment, and 17 percent survived seven years, after which there were no deaths, according to data to be presented at a cancer conference in Amsterdam today. The longest recorded survival was 9.9 years, researchers led by Stephen Hodi from Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said in a statement.

The findings, from the longest follow-up study of the largest number of patients for any skin cancer drug, show patients reach a plateau in survival that starts at about three years and extends until at least 10 years, said Hodi, assistant professor of medicine at the Institute. A previous trial found a survival rate of 18 percent after five years.

The data “provide a benchmark for future medicines for advanced melanoma,” Hodi said in the statement.

Yervoy became the first drug to extend life for melanoma patients when it was approved in 2011. Analysts predict the drug will reach sales of $1.1 billion this year and become New York-based Bristol’s top-selling medicine by 2016.

Yervoy is designed to fight cancer by removing molecular brakes that prevent immune system cells from destroying tumors. While it has only been shown to shrink tumors in slightly more than 10 percent of patients, the patients who gain from it tend to live a long time because the immune system is adaptable and can keep up with mutations in the tumor.

Combination Trial

Bristol-Myers is trialling a combination of Yervoy with a new drug called nivolumab, a so-called anti-PD1 monoclonal antibody. In a small study presented at a U.S. cancer meeting in June, 82 percent of 53 patients who were given the combination were alive after a year, a far higher rate than is seen with Yervoy alone.

Adding anti-PD1 drugs could double or triple survival results and make advanced skin cancer a curable disease for more than half of patients in the next five to 10 years, Alexander Eggermont, director general of the Gustave Roussy Institute in France, said in the statement.

Merck & Co. and Roche Holding AG are working on similar cocktails, though Bristol-Myers is “well in the lead,” Chris Schott, an analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, wrote in a note in June.

Bristol-Myers said this month that Yervoy didn’t meet the main goal of a trial in prostate cancer.

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