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The Associated Press March 25, 2011, 12:28PM ET

FDA clears first melanoma drug to extend survival

Federal health regulators have approved a new cancer drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb that is the first therapy to prolong the lives of patients with melanoma.

It's the first new drug the Food and Drug Administration has approved to treat melanoma since 1998. Older medications have shown few results in fighting the difficult-to-treat skin cancer.

The injectable drug, called ipilimumab (ih-pee-LEE-moo-mab), uses the body's immune system to help fight cancer. It differs from chemotherapy drugs which attack the disease with chemicals.

Studies of the drug, which has the brand name Yervoy (Yehr-VOY), showed patients lived an average of four months longer than those taking older medications. While only a small group of patients respond to the drug, researchers say it is an important milestone.

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