In a December 22, 2014 press release, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had granted accelerated approval to Opdivo (nivolumab), a new treatment for patients with unresectable (cannot be removed by surgery) or metastatic (advanced) melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs. Three related articles were published in the January 22, 2015 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the United States. It forms in the body’s melanocyte cells, which develop the skin’s pigment. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 76,100 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma and 9,710 will die from this disease in 2014. Opdivo works by inhibiting the PD-1 protein on cells, which blocks the body’s immune system from attacking melanoma tumors. Opdivo is intended for patients who have been previously treated with ipilimumab and for melanoma patients whose tumors express a gene mutation called BRAF V600, for use after treatment with ipilimumab and a BRAF inhibitor. “Opdivo is the seventh new melanoma drug approved by the FDA since 2011,” said Richard Pazdur, M.D., Director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The continued development and approval of novel therapies based on our increasing understanding of tumor immunology and molecular pathways are changing the treatment paradigm for serious and life-threatening diseases.” Other FDA-approved treatments for melanoma include ipilimumab (2011), peginterferon alfa-2b (2011), vemurafenib (2011), dabrafenib (2013), trametinib (2013), and pembrolizumab (2014).
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