Patient Eager to Try Melanoma Drug Again

By Meredith Land
|  Thursday, May 5, 2011  |  Updated 1:07 AM CDT
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A man who had a serious reaction to Yervoy in a clinical trial says he is willing to try it again now that the drug is FDA-approved.

Meredith Land, NBCDFW.com

A man who had a serious reaction to Yervoy in a clinical trial says he is willing to try it again now that the drug is FDA-approved.

Many melanoma patients are waiting for a chance to try a drug that was recently approved by federal regulators.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Yervoy to extend the life of melanoma patients.

"Yervoy is for people with invasive melanoma -- melanoma that has spread beyond the skin to other tissues, to other organs," said Dr. Ponciano Cruz, a dermatologist who is developing a similar drug at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Cruz said Yervoy is the first in a new class of drugs that works on the immune system. Four infusions can extend a patient's life six to 10 months, he said.

Mark Kummerle of Keller, entered a clinical trial in San Antonio for Yervoy. But he had a bad reaction to the drug and was hospitalized for three or four days.

"[I] got my first dose, [and] we were very hopeful for it," he said. "[It is a] very promising drug, and I had a bad reaction."

Kummerle said he wants to try Yervoy again, even though he had severe diarrhea and bleeding while on it.

"That's the question my wife always asks and yes, it's worth it," he said. "The drug, it's that important to melanoma."

Kummerle has been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Melanoma ate through his spine and had spread to his organs.

He said he never had a sunburn and never found a dark mole.

"[I] just [had] nagging back pain, and the doctor kept giving me pain medicine and muscle relaxers, and it got to a point where he was giving me so much that I was getting concerned," he said.

Kummerle, 42, was diagnosed with melanoma two years ago.

"We've just been plugging away at it," he said. "It's basically become my job."

Kummerle, 42, says his diagnoses with melanoma two years ago hit his family hard, but he, his wife and two teenage children are learning to cope.

"We use humor in my family, and I think that's helped us a lot, even before this happened," he said. "We're always cracking jokes."

His doctor is careful not to put his life on a timeline but has told the family to get its affairs in order.

Kummerle's wife, Julie, said she doesn't think about life without her husband.

"He is more willing to talk about it than I am, because I think when I open that window, it's almost like giving in and saying, 'OK, you're not going to be here in six months,' and I just can't let myself go there," she said.

The Kummerles are living out every moment, hopeful that Yervoy can buy them more time together. Mark Kummerle doesn't miss his son's lacrosse games.

"Definitely, family gets you though [and] gives you a reason to keep on going," he said.

The drug is expensive -- $120,000 for four infusions. Twenty percent of patients have the side effects Kummerle had -- severe diarrhea and bleeding.

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