Melanoma drug: life-saver and game-changer

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- 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. 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. Stutz told ABC30, "I didn't play for about a year and a half."

Stutz had melanoma that spread to his lungs, liver, spine, and shoulder, leaving him in constant pain.

He said, "It got to the point where I was put on oxygen 24-7."

Even his best tennis buddies thought Stutz's days on the court were over.

Tom Mertens, Stutz's friend told ABC30, "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.'"

Every medicine Stutz tried failed, until he enrolled in a clinical trial at UCLA to test a brand-new therapy called Keytruda.

Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine, told ABC30, "I think it is a game changer."

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 I trial showed 72 percent of patients had their tumors shrink.

"And it's not growing back many months later," Dr. Ribas explained.

Stutz's tumors are 15 percent their original size. His friends are amazed by his recovery.

Mertens said, "I'm flabbergasted, stupefied, and thankful!"

Stutz told ABC30, "I feel great."

Dr. Ribas says it's very unusual for a drug to be approved by the FDA after a Phase I trial. Typically, medicines are approved after Phase II or III studies. The therapy may also help lung, bladder, and head and neck cancers, but researchers say further study is needed.

For more information on this report, please contact:

Reggie Kumar
Media Relations Officer, UCLA

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