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article imageScientists working on new skin cancer pill

By Jane Fazackarley     Aug 7, 2010 in Health
A new skin cancer drug is in development by researchers at GlaxcoSmithKlien. It may take around three years before the new drug becomes available and according to the cancer charity I asked, clinical trials are incomplete at the moment.
The treatment, when it becomes available, will be used to treat patients with malignant melanoma. The scientists from GlaxcoSmithKlien say that it will be available in the form of two pills. The drugs will work on the BRAF gene.
A team working at the Cancer Genome Project, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, discovered that there was a mutation of the BRAF gene in 70% of malignant melanomas. The mutated gene was also found in 10% of colon cancer cases.
Commenting on the potential of the new drug, Professor Richard Marais, Cancer Research UK’s melanoma expert at The Institute of Cancer Research, said:
“We are optimistic about the potential of a new family of drugs which target a gene called BRAF, which is faulty in half of people with melanoma. Treatments for melanoma have not changed in the last 30 years and this disease is difficult to treat.
“Drugs developed by different pharmaceutical companies targeting BRAF have shown short-term improvement in patients in early phase clinical trials. They are easy to take in pill form and patients have very few side effects."
The drugs will not cure the skin cancer but they have been shown to significantly reduce the size of tumours in some patients. Treatments used now include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. Melanoma vaccines are also available but not widely used.
Since the 1970's the incidences of skin cancer in the UK have increased four fold and Melanoma is increasing more rapidly than any other form of cancer. Over 10,400 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed every year and over 2,600 people from the UK die every year from the disease. Statisticians at Cancer Research UK estimate that by 2024 malignant melanoma will become the fourth most common type of cancer with over 15,500 newly diagnosed cases every year.
The are several reasons behind the increase in skin cancer. These include the use of sun beds and people not using proper sun protection.
Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign manager, said:
"Spending time on sunbeds is just as dangerous as staying out too long in sun. Sunbeds don't offer a safe way to tan. The intensity of UV rays in some sunbeds can be more than 10 times stronger than the midday sun.
"Excessive exposure to UV damages the DNA in skin cells which increases the risk of skin cancer and makes skin age faster.
"But, importantly, if people take care not to burn in the sun and don't use sunbeds the majority of malignant melanoma could be prevented."
Experts advise people that if they see any changes in a mole then they should seek advice from their doctor as as soon as possible.
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