Medical breakthrough: FDA approves new skin cancer drug tested in Scottsdale

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

SCOTTSDALE --  A new skin cancer drug tested in Scottsdale has received expedited approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was tested at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare.

It's a remarkable accomplishment in new drug development, making a huge difference in the lives of millions with inoperable basal cell carcinoma.

"We didn't know, we didn't know if it was going to work," said John Rykert,who has spent 25 years fighting skin cancer.  "We didn't know anything other than the fact I was looking at more cancer popping up and we couldn't cut it out because the reconstructive surgery would be impossible."

John Rykert, diagnosed with advanced basal cell carcinoma, had already undergone 27 surgeries when, in 2008, he learned about a clinical trial here Scottsdale Healthcare.

The Californian, who had never been to Arizona before and hates to fly, has since flown here 92 times to participate the Virginia Piper Cancer Center trial, becoming one of the very first patients in the world to try the anti-cancer drug Erivedge.

Clinical trials progress through three phases and can typically take up to 10 years or more to successfully complete.

The drug is the first to receive FDA approval to treat inoperable basal cell carcinoma. Successful early trial results led to a broader subsequent study sponsored by Genentech and continued positive results led to FDA approval for marketing the drug under the name Erivedge.

"A pill... one pill a day is all it takes," said Rykert.  "I don't have to worry about any surgeries and it's going to help a lot of people."

And what this trial has taught scientists may also prove beneficial for other patients fighting other types of cancer.

"We identify a gene and then we give types of medicine trying to basically block the broken gene acting like a gas pedal stuck on an automobile that makes the cancer go," said Doctor Samuel Ejadi. "Those types of medications are now starting to arrive for breast cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer and we are starting to see success."

Still the success of this clinical trial is a little bittersweet for John Rykert who's made great friends here at Scottsdale Healthcare. He even had to wipe away tears as he explained, "They're beautiful people."