hope for new skin-disorder drug

A radical new drug used to treat patients suffering painful sensitivity to sunlight could prevent skin cancer or be copied by the tanning industry.

The breakthrough drug Afamelanotide, developed by a Melbourne company, has been successfully tested for 12 months on 101 people worldwide, including six Melburnians, all with the incurable genetic skin disorder EPP.

The illness leaves suffers with painful, bleeding blisters and burns when exposed to normal levels of sunlight.

Pharmaceutical company Clinuvel has been developing the drug - given as a repeated injection to stimulate skin pigmentation - over the past 19 years.

Royal Children's Hospital and Royal Melbourne head of dermatology, Dr George Varigos, led the Melbourne drug trial on his EPP patients.

"After our patients were treated, they could venture out, and do things as a family that they couldn't do before," he said.

"The effect is incredibly good for their behaviour and lifestyle.

"We are not telling these people to go out and sunbake, but now they can have a normal life."

Dr Varigos is testing the drug on transplant patients taking immune supressants, which increases their risk of developing skin cancer within five years of having a transplant.

He said the tanning industry would probably seek to replicate the drug, which makes the user slightly darker by activating pigmentation.

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