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Japan's ministry to approve anti-melanoma drug

Japan's health ministry says it will approve a domestic pharmaceutical company's application to sell a new anti-melanoma drug. The ministry says Japan will be the first country to approve the drug for melanoma sufferers.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can resemble moles, and sometimes develop from moles. Once it progresses to the advanced stage, the disease is difficult to treat with surgery or anti-cancer drugs.

A health ministry expert panel on Thursday decided it will give the green light to an application filed by Osaka-based Ono Pharmaceutical.

The drug blocks the action of a protein called PD-1, which weakens immune responses, allowing the immune system to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
The Japanese firm says it developed the drug in cooperation with a US firm which was later acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Japan's health ministry is expected to issue official approval soon. The pharmaceutical firm will begin distribution by the end of the year.

Estimates show that at least 1,400 people in Japan develop symptoms of melanoma every year, and half of them die.

Hiroko Tokunaga, the representative of a melanoma patient group, says the new drug will save more patients. She hopes more medicines will be developed and approved, even for illnesses that afflict relatively few people.

Jun. 26, 2014 - Updated 17:22 UTC