Scientists have created a drug which supercharges the body’s immune system to attack tumors and overpower rogue cells that spread the disease.
Remarkable trials showed it gave skin cancer patients with advanced stages of the disease years of extra life.
Experts believe the drug, called Ipilimumab, will be successful on prostate, liver, lung and head tumors too.
The Association of Clinical Oncology conference – the most important event in the cancer calendar – will also hear today about another landmark treatment called Verumafenib.
This had extraordinary results on terminally-ill melanoma patients with 84% still alive six months later, compared to 64% on standard chemotherapy.
The two drugs have been hailed as medical landmarks which offer hope to millions of sufferers.
Dr Renzo Canetta, of Bristol-Myers Squibb which developed Ipilimumab, declared: “It is as important a step forward as chemotherapy.
“This is the future and it will become the mainstay of cancer treatment.”
Dr James Larkin, of London’s Royal Marsden Hospital which took part in trials, added: “We have people still alive years later because of this drug.
“We had one patient with advanced melanoma with a life expectancy of weeks. She responded and now, six years later, is back to normal.”
Skin cancer kills 2,000 people in the UK each year and is the fastest-growing form of the disease in men and second-fastest in women.
Ipilimumab was shown to extend life expectancy in patients from six months to three years and beyond. It is given in four intravenous infusions over three months and neutralizes cells which block antibodies. This energies the body’s defense mechanism to fight tumors. The trial results were presented to 2,000 of the world’s leading cancer experts in Chicago.
Ipilimumab is set to be given approval by the European Medicines Association in the next two months. Then the government’s advisory body, Nice, will rule if it can be available on the NHS.
Vemurafenib, made by Roche, works by stopping the signal that causes melanomas to grow uncontrollably. The results were so impressive, British experts running the trial stopped it early so they could switch all patients in the chemotherapy group on to the new drug.