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  News - St John Hospital, Vanderhoof British Columbia Canada
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Alzheimer Society of B.C
Drug could boost brain cancer survival
Date : - 18/05/2012
A NEW drug could help prolong the life of people diagnosed with one of the most deadly forms of brain cancer, Australian researchers say.

The drug was found for the first time to shrink brain tumours in patients with advanced melanoma, researchers from the Melanoma Institute Australia, University of Sydney and Sydney's Westmead Hospital said.

Dr Georgina Long said the drug, Dabrafenib, targets a particular gene mutation found in half of all melanoma cancers.

The gene drives the proliferation of cancer cells, but the drug stops that process in its tracks.

Dr Long and her colleague Professor Rick Kefford tested the drug on 46 melanoma patients, including 10 whose cancer had metastasised and spread to their brain, and 22 non-melanoma patients.

Patients with melanoma which has spread to the brain are given a dire diagnosis and survive an average of just four months.

However, those involved in the drug trial were all alive at five months.

Brain tumours in nine of the 10 patients shrank in the first six weeks and disappeared in four patients.

Two patients survived beyond a year and one was alive at 19 months.

"That's a huge leap forward for patients with tumours that have spread to the brain, particularly melanoma, because they are common," Dr Long told AAP.

"For 40 years we have been working with drugs in advanced melanoma and nothing has improved survival, which is on average nine months from diagnosis of advanced melanoma," she said.

About a quarter of all advanced melanoma patients have the cancer in the brain at the time of diagnosis, while autopsies show about 70 per cent of these patients have brain tumours.

In the study, half of the patients who did not have tumours in the brain but in other parts of the body experienced tumour shrinkage of 30 per cent or more, Dr Long said.

She said it was possible the drug could treat other cancers as well.

The study, funded by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, was initiated by Dr Long and Prof Kefford who pushed for the drug to be tested on patients with metastatic brain tumours caused by melanoma.

This group of patients are often excluded from clinical trials because of their poor prognosis, Dr Long said.

It was also tested and found to be successful on a particular type of the gene mutation, which is commonly found in Australian melanoma patients and other parts of the world with high UV exposure.

The results, published today in British journal the Lancet, will shortly be tested in a larger cohort.
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