ABC News talk with Dr. Henry Koon about a new gene therapy giving hope in virulent form of cancer

People With Melanoma Have a Glimmer of Hope With New Experimental Therapy

“I was getting my things together — I thought I didn’t have a long to live. I thought that I was going to start getting sick,” said Dixon, 57, who was diagnosed with melanoma twice in his life.

Dixon didn’t even have a mole to warn him the second time.

Twelve years earlier doctors removed malignant mole on his neck along with a section of his skin. For a decade, check-ups showed no sign of cancer and Dixon was told he go on without appointments, cancer-free. Then somewhere from that area, the cancer grew again under his skin.

“I was having night sweats, and I didn’t understand why,” said Dixon. “And rather than going to my primary care doctor, I went to my oncologist and he found it.”

When he started RO5185426 10 months ago, the melanoma in his neck had spread to his lymph nodes and attacked his one of his adrenal glands.

Dixon said he already knew the prognosis for this type of cancer. Only 16 percent of people with his diagnosis survive for 5 years. So Dixon retired from his job at a wholesale distributor for heat and cooling supply products and began waiting.

“They gave me the medicine for five or six months and it became toxic to me,” said Dixon, who began to suffer from excruciating headaches and lost 30 pounds.

But the medicine was working. Dixon watched his tumor regress, or shrink, “by 50-60 percent” in volume on CT scans.

“Now they say my adrenal gland is almost normal size,” said Dixon. “At my last check-up they said it’s holding steady.”

His doctors have since lowered his dosage and he’s since gained back the weight. There have been no improvements on his condition, but Dixon is surprised the results have held out this long. Now the only side effects seem to be a case of numb feet.

“The big picture is that people think this is a very exciting drug,” said Dr. Henry Koon, an oncologist who specializes in melanoma care at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “This is something that can impact two-thirds of melanoma patients.”

The other third of melanoma patients do not carry the BRAF mutation, Koon noted. And RO5185426 comes with side effects but Koon, who is not involved in the clinical trials, pointed out that administering it in pill form is much less intrusive than administering the immunotherapy, Interleukin-2.

“You actually have to come in the hospital for two out of three weeks (for immunotherapy),” said Koon. “It requires almost ICU level care.”



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