They're not cures, but two novel drugs produced unprecedented gains in survival in separate studies of people with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doctors reported Sunday.
In one study, an experimental drug showed so much benefit so quickly in people with advanced disease that those getting a comparison drug were allowed to switch after just a few months.
The drug, vemurafenib, targets a gene mutation found in about half of all melanomas. The drug is being developed by Genentech, part of Swiss-based Roche, and Plexxikon Inc., part of the Daiichi Sankyo Group of Japan.
The second study tested Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Yervoy, a just-approved medicine for newly diagnosed melanoma patients, and found it nearly doubled the number who survived at least three years.
"Melanoma has just seen a renaissance of new agents," and more are being tested, said Dr. Allen Lichter, chief executive of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The new studies were presented Sunday at the oncology group's annual meeting in Chicago and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This is really an unprecedented time of celebration for our patients," said Dr. Lynn Schuchter, of the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center. The new drugs are not by themselves cures, but "the future is going to be to build upon the success" by testing combinations of these newer drugs, she said.
Melanoma is on the rise. There were 68,000 new cases and 8,700 deaths from it in the United States last year, the American Cancer Society estimates. Only two drugs had been approved to treat it, with limited effectiveness, until Yervoy, an immune-system therapy, won approval in March.
The experimental drug, vemurafenib, is aimed at a specific gene mutation, making it the first so-called targeted therapy for the disease. The drug got attention when a whopping 70 percent of those with the mutation responded to it in early safety testing.
The new study, led by Dr. Paul Chapman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, was the key test of its safety and effectiveness. It involved 675 patients around the world with inoperable, advanced melanoma and the gene mutation. They received vemurafenib pills twice a day or infusions every three weeks of the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine.
After six months, 84 percent of people on vemurafenib were alive versus 64 percent of the others.
Less than 10 percent on the drug suffered serious side effects - mostly skin rashes, joint pain, fatigue, diarrhea and hair loss. About 18 percent of patients developed a less serious form of skin cancer. More than a third needed their dose adjusted because of side effects.
The study is continuing, and many remain on the drug, including one of Schuchter's patients: Brian Frantz, a 50-year-old former firefighter from Springfield, Va.
Within a week or two of starting on the drug in September, "we noticed an improvement" and shrinkage in his many tumors, he said. "It was just a miracle."
Schuchter said that's typical of how patients have responded to the drug.
"Within 72 hours, their symptoms improve, pain medicines can be reduced," she said.
The study is a landmark and the results are "very impressive" in people who historically have not fared very well, said Dr. April Salama, a Duke University melanoma specialist.
The study was sponsored by the drug's makers, and many of the researchers consult or work for them. The companies are seeking approval to sell the drug and a companion test for the gene mutation in the U.S. and Europe. A Genentech spokeswoman said the price has not yet been determined.
The other new drug, Yervoy, is not a chemotherapy but a treatment to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. Dr. Jedd Wolchok of Memorial Sloan-Kettering led the first test of it in newly diagnosed melanoma patients.
About 502 of them received dacarbazine and half also got Yervoy. After one year, 47 percent of those on Yervoy were alive versus 36 percent of the others. At three years, survival was 21 percent with Yervoy versus 12 percent for chemotherapy alone.
Side effects included diarrhea, rash and fatigue. More than half on the new drug had major side effects versus one quarter of those on chemotherapy alone.
Bristol-Myers Squibb paid for the study and many researchers consult or work for the company. Treatment with Yervoy includes four infusions over three months and costs $30,000 per infusion.
New England Journal of Medicine: http://www.nejm.org
Faced with losing the life they've built together in the dusty California desert town of Cathedral City, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol are making a last-ditch effort to stave off the looming threat of deportation.
To a large degree, the couple is stuck. While the American information technology consultant and Venezuelan pet groomer wed at a romantic Connecticut ceremony last year, the federal government won't recognize the marriage between the two men - and as a result, won't approve their application for a green card.
But the couple, and others facing a similar predicament, are still trying. The men don't expect to actually obtain a green card any time soon and have already been shot down once but hope filing an application might convince an immigration judge to at least refrain from deporting Benshimol while the fiery legal debate over the country's same-sex marriage laws simmers.
"There have been so many ups and downs on this roller coaster. I really don't know what to expect," said Gentry, 53. "It can't hurt (to refile). All they can do is deny it again."
For years, immigration attorneys warned gay couples not to bother seeking a green card for their foreign spouses since there was no chance they'd get one. Now, in select cases, they're starting to rethink that advice.
In the wake of the federal government's announcement that it will no longer defend a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and a court ruling raising questions about the law, some immigrant advocates have suggested that gay couples fighting deportation apply for a green card in a final effort to stay in the country.
Most couples, advocates say, should refrain from doing so to avoid drawing attention to their predicament if the foreign spouse is here illegally, and to avoid forking over cash for a benefit they won't get anytime soon if here on a legal visa.
But the small group of couples already facing deportation has little to lose by applying, and might see some gain.
In March, an immigration judge in New York halted deportation proceedings involving a lesbian couple until December. Last month, an immigration judge in New Jersey did the same for a Venezuelan salsa dancer married to an American graduate student after Attorney General Eric Holder asked an immigration appeals court to review another case involving a same-sex couple.
In a memo posted to its web site in March, the American Immigration Lawyers Association suggested that couples facing deportation consider filing for a green card in the hopes that it might win sympathy from an immigration judge willing to put the case on hold or bolster the immigrant spouse's case for an asylum petition.
"We are advising more people to do it - at least in the context of if the foreign partner, the foreign spouse is in deportation proceedings," said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, an immigrant rights group focused on the gay and lesbian community. "At this point there is more of a feeling that the tide is turning on marriage in this country and it could be something that could be helpful."
U.S. immigration authorities are denying green cards for same-sex couples because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, said Chris Bentley, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. As of March, the agency had 10 or 20 such petitions pending, he said.
There are roughly 26,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States where one partner is a U.S. citizen. There's no estimate on how many have legally married, said Gary Gates, a UCLA professor and co-author of the Gay and Lesbian Atlas.
It's impossible to know how many couples filed green card petitions before last year, immigration authorities said.
Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, said he started encouraging some clients to apply last year after a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled the 1996 Act is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state's right to define marriage. Soloway saw further encouragement this year when Holder said the executive branch would no longer defend the Act as constitutional and the immigration agency temporarily held off making a decision on same sex couples' cases.
"The forum in which we're testing the issue is immigration court," said Soloway, who represents a dozen couples including Gentry and Benshimol. "It is the best possible place for this discussion to be taking place because it involves parties that have broad discretion to address just the kinds of concerns we're talking about."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement - which is responsible for carrying out deportations - said the agency will continue to enforce the law unless it is repealed by Congress or shot down by the courts.
The issue has enflamed passions on both sides of the debate over gay marriage.
It has also raised questions for those seeking stricter limits on immigration. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said judges can exercise discretion on individual cases but shouldn't use that power to enact sweeping policy changes.
"They are in effect legislating and it's not their job. It's Congress' job," Krikorian said.
Benshimol came to the country 12 years ago and overstayed his tourist visa -an immigration violation that straight couples can remedy once married. Now, he says he can't safely return to Venezuela as an openly gay man and also can't stand the thought of being separated from his husband, or of forcing Gentry to leave behind his adult son and daughter who live in California.
Even so, Gentry and Benshimol say they are hopeful, simply because they have no other choice.
"You just never know. The analytical side of my head says, you know, DOMA exists and it's the law and they're going to deny it," Gentry said. "But then the hopeful side of your brain says, you know, there's a chance."
The federal government has rested its case in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Prosecutors rested Monday after calling the last of eight total witnesses in the case against Tahawwur Rana. Rana has pleaded not guilty to providing a cover story for David Headley, an admitted Pakistani-American terrorist who conducted surveillance ahead of the attacks that killed more than 160.
Rana's defense attorneys now begin their case and say they'll call witnesses a including a computer expert. Rana isn't expected to testify.
Headley has pleaded guilty and was the government's star witness. He testified how he took orders from Pakistani intelligence and a militant group as he took video surveillance.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's calling lawmakers back to work in Springfield.
Quinn announced Monday he would be talking to legislative leaders about a date to come back because he says there's an outstanding issue with the state's capital construction program.
The Chicago Democrat says lawmakers adjourned last week without approving an appropriations bill so the state can spend money on its ongoing capital construction program.
Quinn says he wants the lawmakers back to the state Capitol promptly so work doesn't have to stop on projects around the state, including road, bridge and other construction projects.
Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose says this nearly $300 million re-appropriation bill is separate from a lawsuit pending before Illinois' Supreme Court over the Illinois Jobs Now! plan, saying the capital funds that legislators have yet to vote on are already in place.
He believes something will be worked out over a day or two in Springfield this summer, and Rose agrees there are some important projects in the measure. But he's not happy the way the bill was handled by Senate Democrats:
"We are talking about austerity, and trying to right the ship, and not spend more money on projects," said Rose. "So frankly, for the Senate Democrats to do this is highly cynical. But that's what they've chosen to do is highjack the construction part of the budget."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the construction issue may take longer than a day or two in Springfield.
"I think there's pretty much agreement on the need to pass the capital component of this," Frerichs said. "But there are some real differences of opinion on spending priorities between the House and the Senate that were also included in this bill."
The Senator says that includes new money attached to the bill in the Senate to help those with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, areas identified as priorities in the Senate Democratic caucus. Rose says the most important thing is that Illinois' operating budget passed last week, and that a vote on capital projects will have no impact on schools, universities, and everyday travel on roads and bridges. Quinn says if work stops on the projects it will throw 52,000 people out of work.
A Chicago-based scientist says he's grateful to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk for siding with legislation that backs stem cell research.
Kirk on Monday called for congressional action to codify an executive order on the research issued by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Dr. John Kessler directs a stem cell research institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says Kirk is backing legislation that's "absolutely essential for the field'' because uncertainty over federal funding discourages young scientists from doing research on stem cells.
Kirk says stem cell research offers "the best promise'' to cure certain diseases. The Illinois Republican says, if senior Democratic senators choose not to move the stem cell legislation in this Congress, he will. He says court challenges to taxpayer-financed stem cell research make legislation necessary.
There are people out there who want think they have that million dollar recipe that food shoppers will flock to buy. But beyond that first batch, what's missing is the right kitchen. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at the effort to build a community kitchen in Champaign-Urbana, and he visits one-kitchen in Danville that's taken off.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
View a Slideshow from The Cook's Workshop in Danville
A survey on the greatest health needs in Champaign County has been broken down into four general areas.
The state requires the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to complete a local assessment of needs plan every five years. After more than 11-hundred replies last year, priorities were identified as access to care (or paying for medical, mental and dental health), accidents (including DUI crashes and those in the home), obesity, and violence (including alcohol-related abuse and domestic violence.)
CUPHD Epidemiologist Awais Vaid says the county's current Community Health Plan was narrowed from 10 categories five years ago. He says public health is given no specific guidance on how to come up with the priorities.
"It's basically the community partners, the community leaders that get together and decide one what should be included," said Vaid. "But the last time we identified 10 of them, it became too much to address each of them, because each takes time and resources."
Vaid says community coalitions are being put together to address the four areas, each of them involving members of the public health district.
"The last time we finished the process, and thought as time goes by, some group will start addressing each one of these. It didn't happen," said Vaid. "So most of them were not addressed the way we were expecting to. But this time we do have specific groups that have a vested interest."
Yearly progress on the surveyed areas will be posted on the CUPHD's website.
It's been a while since Indiana reported revenues exceeding projections, but that's what happened in May.
Indiana's State Budget Agency reported today that the state took in $1.2 billion, roughly $151 million more than forecasters projected.
The increase covers a nearly $90 million revenue shortfall in April.
"It is clear that individual income tax collections have improved dramatically in 2011 compared to 2010 due to strong employment and income growth," agency director Adam Horst stated in a written statement. "Payroll withholdings, the largest component of individual income tax collections, have consistently grown in excess of 6 percent throughout 2011. For April and May, individual income tax collections grew 20 percent compared to the same time period for 2010."
In this fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, Indiana's collected $128 million more in taxes that the state's forecasting committee projected.
Revenues are also up by over 9 percent this year than last.
The only down side to the forecast was gaming revenues for the state.
Horst said riverboat wagering tax collections again fell short of the monthly target, and now lag behind 2010 revenues by 3.4 percent.
"On the other hand, racino (horse racing) wagering tax collections continue to exceed monthly targets, and are running 7.4 percent ahead of 2010 revenues," Horst said. "Through May, total gaming revenues trail the revenue forecast by $13 million and are running $8 million behind collections for the same time period last year."
Northwest Indiana is home to five casino boats along Lake Michigan.
The stale gaming numbers come at a time when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is considering signing a bill that would dramatically increase casino licenses in the state.
Under the proposed plan, a casino could be approved for a south suburban location, as well as for downtown Chicago. Either location could eat into revenues taken in by casinos in Northwest Indiana.
It's been six weeks since a Champaign County judge ordered the closure of an apartment complex between Rantoul and Thomasboro.
But public health officials say people continue to live there. Indeed, as of Thursday, there were several cars parked in front of a far east building, which had a new dumpster nearby and kids playing in the yard.
The first collection buildings in the complex, known as Cherry Orchard, looks empty from the main highway - County Road 1500 East. There appears to be no cars and no people.
In April, a Champaign County judge fined its managers, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, more than $54,000 and ordered them to close down the property following a nearly four-year-old Champaign County Public Health Department case.
New painted words "For Sale" have replaced "Cherry Orchard" on a large, weathered wood sign. New phone numbers with the 202 area code have appeared. The property is listed for $1.3 million on this website. There is no longer a "for rent" sign.
The main entrance is blocked by an old telephone pole propping up a door turned on its side decorated by the word "Closed" in spray-paint. An electrical cord of some type serves as a make-shift rope between two trees that flank the main entrance.
By all appearances, from the corner of county roads 1500 East and 2700 North, the 11-acre, 68-unit apartment complex looks to be in compliance with the April court order.
A woman answered a call to one of the phone numbers listed on the sign, but pleasantly declined to give her name and said she would only discuss the details of the complex and its selling price with serious buyers. She said the complex was "empty, completely empty."
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The Health Department had sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have repeatedly declined to comment for any news stories about the complex - including not returning calls seeking comment and posting signs warning "media dogs" to stay away. After April's ruling, the pair flashed a sign at reporters that read "slander- lying" as they left the courtroom.
The Ramos incurred more legal troubles when they failed to show up for a status hearing in May, after reports that the complex had yet to be closed and tenants remained. They notified the state's attorney's office prior to the hearing to report that they were on an extended trip to Texas.
At the May hearing, Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - a total of $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent before they can be released.
Soon after, the complex appeared to have been closed down.
But health officials who regularly spot-check the complex have found people living there, and neighbors have reported to health officials that men are working on apartments during the day as well and that residents remain in the buildings.
A visit to the area on Thursday morning showed the same.
While the main entrance to the complex is closed, a second driveway - accessible further down County Road 2700 North - leads right to the far east building (noted as number 5 on the map below).
There appeared to be a work van and four or five cars parked in front of the complex.
There were also children playing out front.
Neighbors have also reported that new air conditioners have been installed in the windows and a new dumpster was placed nearby.
Health Department officials do not have the authority to physically remove anyone from the complex; however, they remain concerned about the safety and health of residents who continue to live there due to the conditions of the complex.
Health officials are also concerned that the Ramoses are preparing the place for additional tenants - migrant workers who typically move to the area during this time of year, said Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde.
As of Friday, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have yet to be arrested on the outstanding warrants for contempt of court.
The County Board of Health plans to meet next week with officials from the county to see what options they can legally pursue to ensure that the apartment complex is vacated and the illegal discharge of sewage ends, Pryde said.
(Photo by A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
Recent Photos Taken of the Cherry Orchard Apartment Complex: