James Larkin, a medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden hospital in London, comments on the breakthrough

Two novel drugs have produced unprecedented gains in survival in separate studies of people with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doctors have reported.

Researchers said on Monday that the two new drugs represent the most significant advance in treatment in 30 years.

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 pill acts on a faulty gene found in half of terminally ill patients. After six months 84 per cent of patients were still alive, compared to 64 per cent of patients who received chemotherapy.

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 US and Europe.

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. Yervoy works together with chemotherapy to spur the immune system to fight off the cancer.

After one year 47 per cent of patients were still alive, compared with just 36 per cent who received just chemo and a placebo.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies