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Drug for rare skin cancer shows promise

WASHINGTON--A newly approved drug has shown promise in keeping two rare variations of skin cancer at bay, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

The drug, Erivedge (vismodegib), is made by Genentech, a U.S. subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January after an expedited review.

It aims to treat basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common form of skin cancer in the world but which is rarely deadly. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 80 percent of nonmelanoma cancers and some two million new cases in the U.S. each year.

The journal published two studies that show how it helped some patients with two unusual variations of basal cell carcinoma: metastatic basal cell carcinoma and Gorlin syndrome, also known as Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome.

There is no other treatment for Gorlin syndrome, which strikes one in 50,000 people and involves the constant growth of tumors, which are often not deadly but can cause scarring and require frequent surgeries.

Subjects with Gorlin syndrome who took vismodegib developed an average of two new tumors per year, compared with 29 new tumors in subjects taking a placebo, the study said.

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