Possible skin-cancer treatment

On-again, off-again dosing found to be effective in mice

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Intermittent dosing of the anti-cancer drug vemurafenib (marketed as Zelboraf) could prolong the lives of melanoma patients with deadly tumors, a study finds.

Researchers from UC San Francisco, the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research and University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland found that one mechanism by which melanoma cells become resistant to vemurafenib also causes them to become addicted to the drug, according to a UCSF press release.

The cells then use the drug to spur growth of rapidly progressing, drug-resistant tumors. Using this discovery, the researchers introduced mice with melanoma to an on-again, off-again treatment schedule that both shrank their tumors and prolonged their lives.

In 2012, an estimated 76,250 Americans were newly diagnosed with melanoma, and 9,180 people died from the aggressive form of skin cancer.