The gist: The drug KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) might be better than chemotherapy for people with melanoma that is metastatic or can’t be surgically removed, and who tried treatment with the drug ipilimumab without success. That was the conclusion of a recent clinical trial with volunteer patients. KEYTRUDA is an immunotherapy drug, meaning that it boosts the immune system to fight cancer.
“Merck (NYSE:MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, announced today that a pre-specified analysis of investigational data from a pivotal Phase 2 study (KEYNOTE-002) showed KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab), the company’s anti-PD-1 therapy, substantially improved the primary endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS, as assessed by RECIST 1.1, independent central review) (HR 0.57 and 0.50 for 2 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg every three week doses, respectively), compared to chemotherapy (P<0.0001 for both comparisons) in patients with ipilimumab-refractory advanced melanoma (n=540). At six months, the PFS rates for KEYTRUDA were 34 percent at the 2 mg/kg dose (95% CI, 27-41) (n=180) and 38 percent at the 10 mg/kg dose (95% CI, 31-45) (n=181), compared to 16 percent for chemotherapy (95% CI, 10-22) (n=179). The median duration of follow-up at the interim analysis was 10 months.
“These findings, including pre-specified analyses of overall response rate (ORR), duration of response, safety and health-related quality of life (HRQoL), were presented today in an oral session by Dr. Antoni Ribas, professor, Hematology/Oncology and Surgery, and director of the Tumor Immunology Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, Los Angeles at the Society of Melanoma Research (SMR) 2014 International Congress in Zurich, Switzerland.”
The gist: The drug nivolumab (aka Opdivo) appears to be more effective than chemotherapy for certain people with metastatic melanoma. That was the conclusion of a recent clinical trial—a research study with volunteer patients. The study involved people whose disease worsened after treatment with drugs known as anti-CTLA-4 therapies or drugs known as BRAF inhibitors, such as ipilimumab (aka Yervoy).
“Nivolumab induced a greater rate of overall response than chemotherapy in patients with metastatic melanoma who progressed on or after anti-CTLA–4 therapy or treatment with BRAF inhibitors, according to phase 3 study results presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology Annual Congress in Madrid.
“ ‘For those who failed [on] ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb) and a BRAF inhibitor, there are no therapies known to prolong survival,’ researcher HemOnc Today. ‘This is the first phase 3 study of a PD-1 inhibitor, and first evidence that a PD-1 inhibitor is superior to any other therapy for ipilimumab-refractory melanoma…’
“The next step will be to conduct research designed to evaluate proper ways to combine nivolumab with other agents, Weber said.”
The gist: In the U.S. and Australia, oncologists are allowed to prescribe a treatment that combines the drugs Mekinist (trametinib) and Tafinlar (dabrafenib) for people with unresectable or metastatic melanoma whose tumors have a V600E or V600K mutation in the BRAF gene. European regulators would like to see more data on the benefits and risks of the treatment before approving it for European patients. The company that produces the treatment was conducting a clinical trial with volunteer patients to capture that data, but has now decided to halt the trial, which was comparing the combo treatment to the drug Zelboraf (vemurafenib). The trial found that the combo treatment has such a significant improvement on patient survival that the patients who had been taking vemurafenib for comparison should be allowed to switch to the combo treatment, and the trial ended early.
“GlaxoSmithKline has stopped a Phase III study of its combination therapy for advanced cutaneous melanoma ahead of schedule after it showed a significant survival benefit.
“The UK drug giant said an Independent Data Monitoring Committee (IDMC) has made the recommendation as it emerged patients with metastatic melanoma – carrying a BRAFV600 mutation – who took a combo of Mekinist (trametinib) and Tafinlar (dabrafenib) demonstrated an overall survival benefit compared to those taking vemarufenib.
“Safety signals were also good, remaining consistent with that for the MEK inhibitor and BRAF inhibitor observed to date, the firm said.”
“Accounting for approximately half of all cancers in the United States, skin cancer is widely recognized as the most common cause of cancer nationwide. More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, incidences of skin cancer outnumber all combined cases of breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers.
“With the month of May designated as National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, HemOnc Today highlights 10 issues for oncologists and dermatologists to consider for their patients, as well as the new guideline revisions and research regarding the identification, treatment and management of patients with melanoma and skin cancer.”
“In recent years, the FDA has approved new drugs for the treatment of advanced melanoma, which has presented new ways to treat the disease, according to a presentation at the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting.
“ ‘In the last four years there have been four new drugs that have been FDA-approved for melanoma and what’s even more exciting is that they really speak to two new ways to treating melanoma,’ Allan C. Halpern, MD, MSc, chief of dermatology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, told Healio.com.
“The most recent FDA approval, in January, was the combination of a BRAF inhibitor and a MEK inhibitor for treating advanced melanoma.”
“Prior treatment with immunotherapy did not limit response to BRAF inhibitors among patients with metastatic melanoma, according to results of a retrospective study.
“However, patients who underwent initial treatment with BRAF inhibitors and subsequently received immunotherapy with ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb) demonstrated poorer outcomes, results showed.
“Patients with BRAF-positive metastatic melanoma have several treatment options, including BRAF inhibitors vemurafenib (Zelboraf, Hoffmann-La Roche) and dabrafenib (Taflinar, GlaxoSmithKline), the MEK inhibitor trametinib (Mekinist, GlaxoSmithKline), and the immunotherapy agents ipilimumab and interleukin-2. Yet, there are limited data with regard to optimal sequencing, according to researchers.”
“As reported in The Lancet Oncology by Larkin et al, interim results of a safety study designed to reflect the spectrum of patients encountered in routine practice suggest that vemurafenib (Zelboraf) has a safety profile in patients with BRAF V600–mutated metastatic melanoma similar to that observed in the more select patient population included in registration trials. The study included patients with limited treatment options and sizable proportions with brain metastases, elevated lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), poor performance status, and age ≥ 75 years.”
Editor’s Note: The important takeaway from this story is that the drug vemurafenib can be used safely and effectively in some melanoma patients with poor prognoses, who may not fit the profile of patients typically enrolled in clinical trials to test the drug. To learn more about clinical trials and “targeted therapies” like vemurafenib, visit our Melanoma Basics.
“Half of melanoma patients with the BRAF mutation have a positive response to treatment with BRAF inhibitors, but nearly all of those patients develop resistance to the drugs and experience disease progression.
“Now, a new preclinical study published online ahead of print in the Journal of Clinical Investigation from Penn Medicine researchers found that in many cases the root of the resistance may lie in a never-before-seen autophagy mechanism induced by the BRAF inhibitors vermurafenib and dabrafenib. Autophagy is a process by which cancer cells recycle essential building blocks to fuel further growth. Block this pathway with the antimalarial drug hydroxycholoroquine [sic] (HCQ), the authors found, and the BRAF inhibitors will be able to do their job better…
“Based on these promising preclinical results, Dr. Amaravadi and his team have already launched a clinical trial for patients with advanced BRAF mutant melanoma to see how well-tolerated HCQ is with the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib. ‘So far,’ he said, ‘we are seeing a benefit to patients and low toxicity.’ “
The US Food and Drug Administration just granted accelerated approval for a treatment that combines two drugs that target melanomas with BRAF mutations — but this was contingent on the results of an ongoing phase III clinical trial. The drugs are the BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and the MEK inhibitor trametinib (Mekinist). Now the latest results of the trial are in and they look good. This combination treatment is not approved elsewhere in the world, and the trial included 423 people from Australia, Europe, and North and South America. Final results are expected later this year and will be presented at a scientific meeting. In addition, another trial is comparing this combination treatment to the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib (Zelboraf), which is also FDA-approved.