UCLA researchers: New melanoma drug accelerates less serious skin cancers

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UCLA researchers have discovered that a newly-approved melanoma drug accelerates secondary skin cancers in some patients, but some researchers say the news isn't as bad as it sounds.

Melanoma is an aggressive and often fatal form of skin cancer. The drug works for about half the patients who take it, but in about 25 percent of those patients, the drug accelerates a less-serious and surgically-treatable form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinomas.

The finding has since prompted a team of UCLA and international cancer researchers to take a closer look.

Their study, stretching over 18 months, peeked into the side effects of the drug — known by its brand name, Zelborof — and has uncovered why the secondary cancer growth happened.

That’s potentially good news for the future of melanoma drug treatments, said UCLA oncologist Dr. Toni Ribas, a co-author of the study.

"By understanding how that process was happening, we are able to then define [...] the next step," said Ribas. "[That being], how can we design a combination therapy that prevents this side effect and makes the primary treatment more effective?"

Ribas said researchers have begun to apply their findings to clinical trials for a new treatment that he believes will lead to a more effective melanoma pill without the side effects.

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