While Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy is considered the standard treatment for melanoma patients post-surgery, a new study published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the drugmaker's newer drug, Opdivo, is safer and more effective.
For the study, researchers compared the effects of both drugs among 900 patients with advanced melanoma who underwent surgery to have their tumors removed. Both Yervoy and Opdivo are designed to fight cancer cells in conjunction with the patient's immune system.
The study found that after 12 months of treatment, 71 percent of patients who were given Opdivo had no disease recurrence, compared with 61 percent of patients taking Yervoy. At 18 months, the relapse-free rate for patients on Opdivo was 66 percent, compared with 53 percent for those taking Yervoy.
Further, the researchers found patients taking Opdivo experienced fewer severe side effects, such as fatigue and diarrhea, than those on Yervoy. According to the study, 14 percent of patients Opdivo experienced severe side effects, compared with 45 percent of those taking Yervoy. The side effects forced 5 percent of patients on Opdivo to discontinue their treatment, while 31 percent taking Yervoy had to discontinue treatment.
Jeffrey Weber, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone School of Medicine, said, "Results like this will change how we practice medicine," adding that Opdivo "could realistically become the new standard of care" for melanoma patients.
"In the future I think patients at significant risk of relapse will all be receiving [Opdivo]," said Weber. "That will diminish the number of people that relapse and, at the end of the day, I would hope that it will prolong survival."
Weber was asked why Opdivo could be more effective than Yervoy, and he responded by saying that Opdivo was more like "a sniper rifle, much more directed," whereas Yervoy was "more of a shotgun" (McGinley, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 9/10; Hirschler, Reuters, 9/10).
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