New melanoma drug shrinks tumors using the immune system

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- When Tom Stutz was diagnosed with melanoma five years ago, the skin cancer had spread to several organs. He was weak and frail.

"I was whipped to be honest with you, and I thought that was pretty much the end of the line for me," said Stutz. "I didn't really even have the strength to turn over in bed at that point."

That was until Stutz enrolled in a clinical trial at UCLA and received a new type of immunotherapy called Pembrolizumab. It's an antibody that blocks a protein called PD-1 and arms the body's own immune system to fight the cancer.

Dr. Ribas and his team at UCLA tested the drug, also known as Keytruda, on more than 650 patients. Early in the research, patients were responding so positively that the drug received a "breakthrough" status from the FDA.

"When we compared the baseline tumors to the tumors after dosing, the metastases or the lesions around the body were smaller in one-third of the patients," Ribas said.

Tumors in some patients continue to shrink two years later.

This is encouraging news for this new approach of boosting the body's own disease fighting power.

"With this new generation of immunotherapies, we're now having a sizable number of patients who have a response to the therapy and are going on to live normal lives, three or four years later," added Ribas.

That is exactly what happened for Stutz.

"I've been to family events, I've gone on vacations with my kids," he said. "I'm feeling great, so what can I say, no complaints."

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