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Average survival was 10 months with ipilimumab versus just more than six months for the others, which worked out to a 67 percent improvement in survival for those on the drug, said one of the study's leaders, Dr. Steven O'Day of the Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Los Angeles.
Doctors hope the drug can provide more benefit if given earlier in the course of the disease and to less sick patients.
Ten percent to 15 percent of patients on ipilimumab had serious side effects related to the drug's actions on the immune system. Most were treatable with high doses of steroids, but 14 deaths were thought to be related to the treatment. That's still far fewer than deaths due to the cancer.
The study was funded by Bristol-Myers and Medarex Inc., a company that co-developed the drug and was bought by Bristol-Myers last year. A spokeswoman said Bristol-Myers has not yet set a price for the drug, but similar treatments for other cancers cost several thousand dollars a month or more.
Results were reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual conference in Chicago and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Cancer meeting: http://www.asco.org/
National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/
New England Journal of Medicine:
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