New Developments in Melanoma Treatment


Neoadjuvant (before-surgery) treatments for resectable melanoma

Neoadjuvant treatments are the mainstay in the care of patients with breast, colon, and other cancers, but have not traditionally been used in melanoma. This has changed now, with the publication of a report showing that patients with resectable stage III or IV BRAF-mutant melanoma benefit from treatment with the BRAF/MEK inhibitor drugs dabrafenib and trametinib prior to (and continued after) surgery. The randomized clinical trial that produced these findings was small, but the benefits were so obvious that the researchers had to close the control group—those patients who received a placebo instead of neoadjuvant treatment. 71% of the 14 patients in the trial who received BRAF/MEK inhibitors prior to surgery were disease-free after 18 months, whereas all seven patients in the control group experienced a recurrence. The trial is continuing without the control group: all patients will receive treatment prior to surgery

Adjuvant (after-surgery) treatments

Melanoma patients whose tumors are surgically removed experience a very high rate of recurrence. Until recently, adjuvant treatments to prevent recurrences were limited to the drug interferon alpha-2B and, more recently, ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy), an anti-CTLA-4 immune checkpoint drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FAD) for adjuvant treatment in 2015. Interferon treatment is extremely harsh, with many adverse effects, and is not often used anymore. Yervoy is often associated with autoimmune side effects, which are sometimes quite serious.

Enter nivolumab (Opdivo) the anti-PD-1 checkpoint drug approved by the FDA to treat metastatic melanoma and other cancers. A clinical trial showed that the recurrence-free survival (RFS) rate at 18 months with nivolumab was 66.4% compared to 52.7% for ipilimumab (Yervoy) in patients with resected stage IIIB/C or IV melanoma. This amounts to a 35% reduction in the risk of recurrence or death with the PD-1 inhibitor versus the CTLA-4 inhibitor. Not the least important factor is the much lower rate of side effects seen with nivolumab compared to ipilimumab. Nivolumab is now approved by the FDA as an adjuvant treatment after surgical resection of melanoma.

Pembrolizumab, a competing anti-PD-1 drug, also showed encouraging results in a randomized trial for stage III melanoma. The stakes in this trial were lower, since the control arm received a placebo (not ipilimumab!). Risk reduction was 43%, according to preliminary results of the trial.

For patients with BRAF-mutant stage III melanoma, adjuvant treatment with the BRAF/MEK inhibitors dabrafenib and trametinib was just recently granted a priority review by the FDA, signaling a likely approval soon. Recurrence-free 3-year survival was 58% for the combination versus 39% for placebo.

New treatments for metastatic melanoma

A Knowledge Blog post from last summer described new combination treatments for metastatic melanoma. There have been significant developments since then.

Several trials combined PD-1 blockers (pembrolizumab or nivolumab) with small molecules known as IDO inhibitors. The latter help shut down the activity of immune system cells known as regulatory T cells (T regs), which dampen the immune response triggered by anti-PD-1 drugs. Combination of pembrolizumab with the IDO inhibitor epacadostat increased the rate of responses to pembrolizumab from 32% to 56%. This is very comparable to the response rate seen with the FDA-approved combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab. However, the significant toxicities seen with addition of ipilimumab are not observed when IDO inhibitors are added. Several other competing IDO inhibitors are currently in trials with both pembrolizumab and nivolumab. Importantly, there is also hope that these drug combinations may abolish resistance to PD-1 blockers in previously treated melanoma patients.

Another promising combination has been tested in a small clinical trial of nivolumab with NKTR-214, a specifically modified form of the protein IL-2, which is a strong activator of the immune system. High-dose IL-2 is a drug that has long been approved for metastatic melanoma but is rarely used because of the extremely serious adverse effects. NKTR-214 is a modified (PEGylated) IL-2 that has much reduced side effects, and does not activate inhibitory T regs. Clinical trial results have been released for 11 melanoma patients treated with the combination. Of the patients enrolled, 73% have experienced objective responses, which is obviously much higher than what is seen with nivolumab alone. This trial is now enrolling patients who have or have not already been treated with immune drugs.

Patients who were treated with anti-PD-1 drugs and experience progression may consider enrolling in trials that add relatlimab (an anti-LAG3 immune drug) to nivolumab. In a trial that enrolled heavily pretreated patients who failed on previous treatment with anti-PD-1 drugs, the rate of response was 11.5%, but many more patients (38%) have achieved stable disease. The presence of LAG3 protein (but not PD-L1 protein) in the tumors was predictive of response.

There are other new drugs to watch. TLR9 agonists (activators) have shown early promising results in melanoma. TLR is a group of receptors that are strongly involved in innate immunity. A recent publication showed that intratumoral injection of a TLR9 activator with an antibody to OX40 (a protein on T cells) has extraordinary activity in a mouse cancer model. Trials that combine anti-OX40 and TLR9 agonists are forthcoming. However, two TLR9 agonists, SD-101 and IMO-2125, have shown very promising results in combination with anti-PD-1 or anti-CTLA4 drugs.

The other drug with early promise is ImmunoPulse IL-12 (pIL-12). In combination with pembrolizumab, it induced responses in 43% of patients who had not been previously treated with immune drugs. The important point is that patients in this trial were specifically selected to have a tumor profile that is associated with lack of response to pembrolizumab. pIL-12 is injected into tumors, so this intervention is appropriate for patients who have injectable tumors.

New BRAF/MEK inhibitors for melanoma have emerged: encorafenib and binimetinib produced a 3-year overall survival rate that is twice as high as seen with vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor. The comparison is not exactly meaningful because vemurafenib is not used as a single drug in BRAF-mutant melanoma these days, but this phase III trial was initiated back in 2013, prior to the approval of other BRAF/MEK combinations. The new combination may be approved mid-2018.

The triplet combinations for BRAF-mutant melanoma should be mentioned (immune plus targeted drugs). A trial that combined dabrafenib and trametinib with pembrolizumab reported early success, with a confirmed response rate of 67% in 15 patients who received the combination.


Targeted BRAF/MEK Inhibitor Combination Achieves Long-Term Survival in Melanoma

Excerpt:

“More than one-fourth of patients with advanced BRAF V600-mutant melanoma remained alive at 5 years after treatment with the combination of dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and trametinib (Mekinist), long-term follow-up from a randomized trial showed.

“In the subgroup of patients with normal baseline lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and fewer than 3 organ sites with metastases, half remained at alive at 5 years. No new safety signals emerged during long-term follow-up, as reported at the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago.”

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FDA Approves Tafinlar Plus Mekinist for BRAF V600E–Mutant Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer

Excerpt:

“The FDA approved use of dabrafenib in combination with trametinib for treatment of patients with metastatic non–small cell lung cancer whose tumors harbor BRAF V600E mutations, according to the agents’ manufacturer.

“The combination of dabrafenib (Tafinlar, Novartis) — a BRAF inhibitor — and trametinib (Mekinist, Novartis), a MEK1/2 inhibitor — is the first targeted treatment approved in the United States specifically for patients with BRAF V600E–positive metastatic NSCLC.”

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Array BioPharma Announces Positive Top-Line Results from Part 2 of the Phase 3 COLUMBUS Study of Binimetinib and Encorafenib for BRAF-Mutant Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Array BioPharma (Nasdaq: ARRY) today announced top-line results from Part 2 of the Phase 3 COLUMBUS study evaluating binimetinib, a MEK inhibitor, and encorafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, in patients with BRAF-mutant advanced, unresectable or metastatic melanoma. The primary analysis of Part 2 compared progression free survival (PFS) in patients treated with binimetinib 45mg twice daily plus encorafenib 300mg daily (COMBO300) to patients treated with encorafenib 300mg daily as a single agent. The median PFS for patients treated with COMBO300 was 12.9 months compared to 9.2 months for patients treated with single agent encorafenib, with HR of 0.77 [95% CI 0.61-0.97, p=0.029]. COMBO300 was generally well-tolerated and reported dose intensity and adverse events were consistent with COMBO450 results in COLUMBUS Part 1. Part 2 was designed specifically to assess the contribution of binimetinib to the combination of binimetinib and encorafenib by reducing the dose of encorafenib to 300mg in the combination arm to allow for a comparison of equal doses across arms. Further results from Part 2 will be presented at a medical meeting during the second half of 2017.”

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Super Patient: Peter Fortenbaugh Faces the Uncertainty of Pioneering Melanoma Treatment


In spring of 2014, Peter Fortenbaugh noticed what appeared to be a tick that had bitten his lower calf. “It turned out not to be a tick, but it didn’t really go away,” he says.

The spot began to grow and bulge, and in October, Peter showed it to his primary care doctor, who referred him to a dermatologist to remove it. At the time, Peter recalls, it did not occur to him that the growth could be serious.

“I was actually very concerned about skin cancer because I spent a lot of time out in the sun sailing,” Peter says. “I put on a tremendous amount of sunscreen and protection, but never on my legs…I never connected the dots.”

However, a biopsy of the growth came back positive for melanoma. Peter, who lives in Palo Alto, California, with his wife and three children, immediately reached out to several doctors in the San Francisco Bay Area, and all had the same advice: “Take it out, take a biopsy.” Continue reading…


Array BioPharma and Pierre Fabre Announce COLUMBUS Phase 3 Study of Encorafenib plus Binimetinib For BRAF-Mutant Melanoma Met Primary Endpoint

Excerpt:

“Array BioPharma (Nasdaq: ARRY) and Pierre Fabre today jointly announced top-line results from Part 1 of the Phase 3 COLUMBUS (Combined LGX818 Used with MEK162 in BRAF Mutant UnresectableSkin Cancer) study evaluating LGX818 (encorafenib), a BRAF inhibitor, and MEK162 (binimetinib), a MEK inhibitor, in patients with BRAF-mutant advanced, unresectable or metastatic melanoma. The study met its primary endpoint, significantly improving progression free survival (PFS) compared with vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, alone.”

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3-Year Follow-Up Data for Dabrafenib/Trametinib Confirm Results of Combo in Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Three-year follow-up data from the phase III COMBI-d study was presented at the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting, revealing impressive overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) data for the dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and trametinib (Mekinist) combination therapy for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma.

“At the February 15, 2016 data cutoff for the 3-year analysis, 58% of patients remained on therapy. The 3-year PFS rate with the combination was 22% versus 12% with single-agent dabrafenib. The 3-year OS rate was 44% with dabrafenib plus trametinib compared with 32% with dabrafenib alone.

” ‘This is the longest OS follow-up among randomized phase III trials evaluating a BRAF plus MEK inhibitor in patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma,’ said lead investigator Keith T. Flaherty, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. ‘With additional follow-up, and now 3-year maturity, dabrafenib plus trametinib continued to show significant benefit over dabrafenib monotherapy, despite crossover.’ ”

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Roche Buoyed by Early Data on Atezolizumab in Advanced Melanoma

“Swiss drugmaker Roche released on Monday what it called encouraging early data on cancer drug atezolizumab in combination therapy for treating a form of advanced melanoma.

“A phase Ib study of atezolizumab (MPDL3280A), used in combination with the BRAF inhibitor Zelboraf for previously untreated BRAFV600 mutation-positive inoperable or metastatic melanoma, showed adverse events were “manageable and generally reversible”, it said.

“It showed the combination resulted in an objective response rate of 76 percent of people, including three complete responders.”


Binimetinib And Encorafenib Combination Shows Promising Clinical Activity And Potential Differentiated Safety In BRAF-Mutant Melanoma

“Array BioPharma’s (NASDAQ: ARRY) wholly-owned MEK inhibitor, binimetinib, and BRAF inhibitor, encorafenib, were showcased at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). At the meeting, preliminary data for the combination of binimetinib and encorafenib from a Phase 1b/2 dose escalation and expansion study in patients with BRAF-mutant melanoma who are BRAF inhibitor treatment naive were shared during an oral presentation. Results from the study indicate that binimetinib and encorafenib may be safely combined and show encouraging clinical activity consistent with MEK/BRAF inhibitor expectations in patients with BRAF-mutant melanoma who are BRAF inhibitor treatment naive. In addition, a differentiated safety profile relative to other MEK/BRAF inhibitor combinations is emerging in the dose range currently being used in the Phase 3 COLUMBUS trial.  Array expects updated BRAF melanoma data from the ongoing Phase 2 combination trial (LOGIC-2) of binimetinib and encorafenib followed by the addition of a third targeted agent identified based on genetic testing at the time of progression will be submitted to a scientific conference later this year.  LOGIC-2 utilizes the same dose of binimetinib and encorafenib currently being studied in the COLUMBUS trial.”