Immunotherapies Take Center Stage in Treatment of Metastatic Melanoma


The promise of immunotherapy is coming to fruition with therapeutic advances in melanoma. In 1998, high-dose interleukin-2 (HD IL-2) became the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma. But HD IL-2 is severely toxic and benefits only a small minority of patients. In 2011, ipilimumab became the second immunotherapy approved for metastatic melanoma. Continue reading…


Video: Cancer Survivor Sharon Anderson on the Importance of Patient-Donated Data


In 2002, Sharon Anderson was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called leiomyosarcoma (LMS). She joined an online discussion group to explore treatment options with other LMS patients, and tried a drug typically used for breast cancer. Her treatment was successful. In the video above, she tells us how she helped fellow LMS patients gather data about their own tumors and share it with a researcher. The resulting cancer vaccine is now in a phase I clinical trial. Continue reading…


Revamping the Way Cancer Vaccines Are Made Could Boost Their Efficacy


While not as toxic as other therapy approaches, cancer vaccines have also not been very effective. Despite many attempts by researchers, the only therapeutic cancer vaccine that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is sipuleucel-T (Provenge), which is approved specifically for men with metastatic prostate cancer. Continue reading…


Researchers Develop Microscopic Cantilever to Detect BRAF Mutations


Researchers have developed a sensitive method to directly detect mutations in the BRAF gene without amplifying a DNA or RNA sample. Professor Christoph Gerber of the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel, Switzerland; Donata Rimoldi of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Lausanne, Switzerland; and their respective colleagues developed a nanotechnology approach to detect the mutation in RNA from melanoma cells with the help of a microscopic cantilever. Continue reading…


Treatment of Metastatic Melanoma—Evolution from Monotherapy to Combination Therapies


The most prevalent genetic alteration identified in melanoma is a mutation in the BRAF gene that increases the activity of the BRAF protein. As many as 50% of melanoma tumors express a BRAF mutation; the most common is the V600E mutation, found in 80% to 90% of BRAF-mutant patients. The first targeted therapy developed for melanoma, vemurafenib, directly inhibits the BRAF protein. In August 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vemurafenib for treatment of metastatic melanoma with the BRAF V600E mutation. Now, a second BRAF inhibitor, dabrafenib, and a MEK inhibitor, trametinib, have been filed with the FDA for treatment of metastatic melanoma and several late-stage dabrafenib plus trametinib combination trials are underway. Continue reading…


Treating BRAF-Mutated Melanoma: Tough Choices for Clinicians and Patients


Where there were no treatment options for metastatic melanoma patients in the past, there are now several. Prior to 2010, only two treatments were approved: the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine and recombinant human interleukin 2 (IL-2) immunotherapy. Neither was effective in providing durable responses or led to an improvement in overall survival.

But now, the immunotherapy antibody ipilimumab and the targeted oral therapy vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, have been shown to improve overall survival. Both were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. Continue reading…


Noncoding, But Important Mutations Found in Vast Majority of Melanomas


It is always gratifying to see two research groups ask similar questions, use different approaches, and converge on the same answer. Researchers on both sides of the pond—at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as at the German Cancer Research Center and the University Hospital Essen in Germany—found that mutations in a noncoding DNA segment in the TERT gene are highly prevalent in melanoma tumors. Each group only found out about the other’s results after submitting its own research for publication. Continue reading…


Circulating Tumor Cells May Help Determine Melanoma Prognosis


Developing ways to isolate and accurately analyze circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from the blood of cancer patients with solid tumors continues to be an active area of research. Scientists have known for a long time that CTCs can be detected—the first description of CTCs in the blood of a patient with metastatic cancer was reported by Thomas Ashworth in 1869. CTCs travel in the blood as part of the metastatic process, whereby cancer spreads from one organ to another. Continue reading…


Alternative Dosing Schedule Could Delay Resistance to Targeted Melanoma Therapy


Treatment with vemurafenib, a drug in the BRAF inhibitor family, results in rapid tumor shrinkage in metastatic melanoma patients with the V600E BRAF mutation. The response lasts for months, but unfortunately, tumors ultimately become resistant to the treatment. Currently, vemurafenib is given as an oral dose on a daily basis. But a new study published in Nature (doi:10.1038/nature11814) suggests that a 4-weeks-on, 2-weeks-off dosing schedule may help to stave off resistance. Continue reading…