Arthritis Drug May Help Fight Skin Melanoma Cancer

According to scientists working on treatments for a deadly type of skin cancer have discovered that an existing arthritis drug slows the growth of melanomas and could be combined with a drug currently being developed by Plexxikon and Roche.

Researchers found that the generic drug leflunomide, which is commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, also inhibits the growth of melanomas. This was discovered in lab studies using mice and human cancer cells.

If further trials are successful, patients may have access to new treatments for melanoma within three to five years. Trials are currently ongoing for both leflunomide alone as well as in combination with Roche and Plexxikon's promising new melanoma drug PLX4032.

Grant Wheeler of University of East Anglia in the UK, who worked on the research with scientists at the Children's Hopsital in Boston said:

"This is a really exciting discovery -- making use of an existing drug specifically to target melanoma."

Melanomas are tumors of the pigment cells in skin, and is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It affects about 160,000 people around the world each year. If caught early, surgery can remove the tumor. However, if it comes back and spreads, there are really no good alternative treatments. Chemotherapy tends to only work in about 10 to 20 percent of melanoma cases.