Allergan Inc.'s acne drug Tazorac may help patients with the most common type of skin cancer, basal-cell carcinoma, early research shows.
Twenty patients applied the topical gel to a total of 30 cancerous lesions on their faces and bodies once a day for up to eight months. The research, which didn't include a control group normally used in formal clinical trials, was detailed in a letter in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Slightly more than half the patients saw the cancer disappear entirely, while the remainder had at least a 40% reduction in the size of the tumor, according to researchers from the University of L'Aquila in L'Aquila, Italy. The only side effect was mild irritation where the gel was applied, they said.
"Remarkably, there was neither a lack of response nor a worsening during treatment in any patient," the researchers wrote. Longer studies involving more patients are needed to confirm the results and ensure that the cancer doesn't return over time, they said.
Tazorac, known chemically as tazarotene, was approved in the U.S. in 1997 for the treatment of psoriasis. Irvine-based Allergan and 3M Pharmaceuticals, a division of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., now jointly sell the treatment for mild to moderate facial acne as well.
Basal-cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and normally develops on the face or neck. Although the tumor will grow if left untreated, the cancer doesn't spread to other parts of the body and is easily treated with radiation or surgery.
Allergan shares closed at $97.31 in New York Stock Exchange trading Thursday, down $2.38. The company's shares hit a 52-week high of $115.63 on Oct. 5.