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News From the Food and Drug Administration
May 2, 2017

Immunotherapy for Rare Skin Cancer

JAMA. 2017;317(17):1716. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.4278

Avelumab is the first drug approved for adults and pediatric patients aged 12 years or older who have metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare, aggressive skin cancer. The drug is a checkpoint inhibitor, a form of immunotherapy approved for several other types of cancer.

About 1500 new MCC diagnoses occur in the United States annually, and the incidence rose during the late 1980s and ‘90s. Research showed that US rates increased from 0.15 cases per 100 000 population in 1986 to 0.44 cases per 100 000 in 2001. Risk factors for MCC include excessive sun exposure, immunosuppression, and age—the mean age at initial diagnosis is 70 years.

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