SCIENTISTS are offering hope of a potential cure for seriously ill skin cancer patients, after recording "dramatic" responses to patients given a mixture of two new groundbreaking drugs.
Oncologist Prof John Crown said a substantial percentage of patients appeared to be getting "durable" results after taking a combination of ipilimumab, known as ipi, and anti-PD1s.
He said the groundbreaking new treatment was offering the possibility of a cure for advanced melanoma, which normally claims the lives of patients within months of diagnosis.
The results were presented at the European Cancer Congress 2013 in the Netherlands.
Cancer experts heard that, when taken together, the two drugs break down the defences of cancer cells and re-boot a patient's immune system.
This new cocktail of drugs could mean more than half of patients are cured of the devastating condition.
Speaking to the Irish Independent from the conference, Prof Crown said metastatic melanoma – when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body – was usually fatal.
"When the two drugs are taken together, between 70-80pc of patients are having major shrinkage (of the cancer) and about 40pc are having complete clearances. I think overall the story of malignant melanoma is one of the greatest ones in modern cancer care.
"Five years ago there was no treatment, now we have two treatments and patients have a very high chance of having a dramatic response to these treatments," he added.
He said ipi was already being used to treat Irish patients and new trials were under way for the next generation of drugs.
The new treatment will offer hope to around 1,000 Irish people who are diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year.
It is the least common form of the three major kinds of skin cancer and, unlike the other two, is associated with a much higher risk of spreading and ultimately causing death.
Most patients with melanoma, if they are diagnosed early, are cured by having it surgically removed.
However, one-quarter to one-third of melanomas will spread and if that happens they are not generally regarded as being curable.
Professor Stephen Hodi, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, studied the results of ipi being given to some 5,000 patients.
"This is a really amazing time . . . A few years ago we could never have imagined using the c-word – cure – in melanoma. But we are headed that way."