Combination immunotherapy for melanoma improves long-term survival rates

Research has shown that the five-year survival rate of patients treated with both ipilimumab and nivolumab for advanced melanoma is 52%.

Melanoma on skin

Patients with advanced melanoma treated with a combination of two immunotherapy drugs — ipilimumab and nivolumab — are more likely to be alive five years later than patients treated with ipilimumab alone or nivolumab alone, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (17 October 2019)[1]

Researchers randomly assigned 945 patients with advanced melanoma to nivolumab plus ipilimumab, nivolumab plus placebo, or ipilimumab plus placebo.

Treatment was administered until the disease progressed or until side effects became unacceptable.

The five-year overall survival rate for nivolumab plus ipilimumab was 52%, compared with 44% for nivolumab plus placebo and 26% for ipilimumab plus placebo. The five-year progression-free survival rate was 36% for patients taking nivolumab plus ipilimumab, 29% for patients taking nivolumab plus placebo, and and 8% for patients taking ipilimumab plus placebo.

“In the past, metastatic melanoma was regarded as untreatable,” said James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, London.

“This is the first time we can say that the chances of being a long-term survivor of advanced melanoma are now over 50%, which is a huge milestone.”

The researchers pointed out that patients taking nivolumab plus ipilimumab, who stopped treatment early because of side effects, had similar survival outcomes at five years as the overall population.


[1] Larkin J, Chiarion‐Sileni V, Gonzalez R et al. Five-year survival with combined nivolumab and ipilimumab in advanced melanoma. NEJM 2019;381(16):1535–1546. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1910836

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2019, Vol 303, No 7932;303(7932):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20207332

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