The addition of lung cancer drugs to targeted melanoma treatment could extend survival for some patients, according to early research published in the journal Cancer Discovery.

Scientists from Cancer Research UK’s Paterson Institute at The University of Manchester have demonstrated that lung cancer drugs such as AstraZeneca's Iressa (gefitinib) can overcome resistance to treatment with BRAF inhibitors used to treat skin cancer.

Roche's Zelboraf (vemurafenib) was the first BRAF inhibitor to be approved for NHS use last year, and there are others coming through the research and development pipeline.

The class of drugs targets a faulty version of the BRAF protein, which is found in more than half of all melanomas as well as other cancers. The problem is, patients can become resistant after a short time, rendering the drug ineffective and no further options for treatment.

But researchers says they may have found an answer to this, as treating BRAF inhibitor-resistant cancer cells or tumours with drugs that block a different biological pathway - in this case Iressa or Bristol-Myers Squibb's Sprycel (dasatinib) - can stop their growth.

"Two drugs can be better than one in beating this deadly disease," noted study author Professor Richard Marais, director of Cancer Research UK’s Paterson Institute. “If these findings are confirmed in larger studies, combining two drug types could provide an effective new treatment for skin cancer patients for whom the only existing targeted treatment available – vermurafenib – no longer works", he said.

Every year there are 12,800 new cases of malignant melanoma and around 2,200 deaths from the disease, highlighting the need for effective treatment strategies.