Drug Combination Improves Progression-Free Survival in Melanoma Patients

“Patients with advanced melanoma skin cancer survive for longer without their disease progressing if they have been treated with a combination of two drugs, nivolumab and ipilimumab, than with either of these drugs alone. New results show that these patients also do better regardless of their age, stage of disease and whether or not they have a cancer-driving mutation in the BRAF gene.

“Dr James Larkin, a Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden, London, UK, told the 2015 European Cancer Congress, that results from the CheckMate 067 phase III clinical trial had already shown that the combination of the two drugs, which target two different pathways that regulate the immune system, improved the progression-free survival in patients with melanoma who had not received any other treatment. However, until now it was not known whether this remained the case when the results were analysed according to genetic status, age and how advanced was their disease.

“Nivolumab is an inhibitor of the protein 1 (known as PD-1), which functions as an immune checkpoint, playing an important role in the immune system. Ipilimumab inhibits the CTLA-4 checkpoint, which also plays a role in the immune system.”


New Kind of Cancer Study Finds New Targets for Tailored Treatments

“A new kind of cancer study supports the idea that traditional treatment can be turned on its head, with patients given targeted therapy based not on where their tumors started but on their own genetic mutations.

“Researchers used a targeted melanoma drug to treat patients with a range of cancers, from lung cancer to brain cancer, who weren’t being helped by traditional chemotherapy any more. Even though they had many different types of tumors, they all had one thing in common — a genetic mutation called BRAFV600.

“It’s a mutation familiar to doctors who treat melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It’s seen in about half of melanoma cases. A pill called vemurafenib, sold under the brand name Zelboraf, specifically targets the mutation. It helps about half of patients with melanoma who have the mutation.

“The same mutation is sometimes seen in colon cancer, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, brain tumors and some blood cancers.”


FDA Delays Decision for Frontline Nivolumab

“The review period for frontline nivolumab (Opdivo), in patients who have advanced melanoma, recently received an extension of 3 months by the FDA, in order to allow ample time for review of the additional data submitted by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). The updated action date for the new indication is November 27, 2015.

“Nivolumab initially received a priority review designation for the new indication on April 30, 2015, based on the phase III CheckMate-066 trial that explored nivolumab in untreated patients with BRAF wild-type advanced melanoma. The new data hope to support an approval that is irrespective of BRAF status, BMS indicated.

“ ‘The CheckMate-066 trial marked the first time that a PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor showed a survival benefit in a randomized phase III trial,’ Michael Giordano, MD, senior vice president, Head of Development, Oncology, BMS, said when the FDA initially accepted the application. ‘We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA to ensure cancer patients are provided the latest clinical advances that have the potential for improved responses and long-term survival.’ “


Long-Term Survival Possible With MAPK Inhibition in BRAF-Mutant Melanoma

“Long-term outcomes for BRAF-mutant melanoma patients treated with BRAF and MEK inhibitors are influenced by a number of baseline factors including BRAF genotype, gender, and serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) levels, according to a new study.

“Treatment of V600 BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma has improved with inhibition of the MAPK pathway with BRAF inhibitors and MEK inhibitors. But ‘the degree of response and the duration of survival are highly variable,’ wrote study authors led by Alexander M. Menzies, MBBS, of the Melanoma Institute Australia in Sydney. ‘Whether clinicopathologic factors can be used to predict the clinical course of these patients is largely unknown, and there have been few studies examining this issue.’

“The study included 142 consecutive immunotherapy- and MAPK inhibitor–naive patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma. All were treated either with BRAF inhibitors (111 patients) or with a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib (31 patients), and the median follow-up was 15.7 months. Results were published online ahead of print in Cancer.”


ECOG-ACRIN Opens Trial of Treatment Sequencing in Advanced Melanoma

“A new phase III cancer treatment trial has opened for patient enrollment that examines two treatments that work in completely different ways yet have both been shown in previous clinical trials to be effective in treating patients with advanced melanoma, the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group announced today.

“Half of the patients in the trial will be randomly assigned to begin treatment with an investigational combination of two immunotherapy drugs, given together, that work by unleashing parts of the immune system to kill tumor cells. If the treatment stops working and the disease gets worse, patients will receive a second, different treatment of two other drugs, also given together, that work by blocking molecular pathways that drive tumor cell growth and survival.

“For the other half of the patients in the trial, the scenario will be reversed. They will be randomly assigned to begin treatment with the two molecularly targeted drugs, and if those drugs stop working and the disease gets worse, they will be treated with the investigational immunotherapy combination.

“Researchers in the ECOG-ACRIN Melanoma Committee are conducting trial EA6134 to find out which sequence of treatments provides the best outcome for patients.”


Pembrolizumab Increases Progression-Free Survival vs Chemotherapy in Ipilimumab-Refractory Advanced Melanoma

“In a randomized phase II KEYNOTE-002 trial reported in The Lancet Oncology, Ribas et al found that treatment with the anti–PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab (Keytruda) prolonged progression-free survival vs investigator-choice chemotherapy in patients with advanced melanoma progressing on ipilimumab (Yervoy) and, if BRAF V600 mutant–positive, a BRAF or MEK inhibitor.

“The open-label trial included 540 patients from 12 countries with progressive disease within 24 weeks after two or more ipilimumab doses and, if BRAF V600 mutant–positive, previous treatment with a BRAF or MEK inhibitor or both. Patients were randomly assigned 1:1:1 between November 2012 and November 2013 to receive pembrolizumab 2 mg/kg (n = 180) or 10 mg/kg (n = 181) every 3 weeks or investigator-choice chemotherapy (n = 179, including 42 to paclitaxel plus carboplatin, 28 to paclitaxel, 13 to carboplatin, 45 to dacarbazine, and 43 to temozolomide)…

“The investigators concluded: ‘These findings establish pembrolizumab as a new standard of care for the treatment of ipilimumab-refractory melanoma.’ “


Opdivo Produces Similar Rates of Responses in Melanoma with and Without BRAF Mutation

“A pooled analysis of four clinical trials of nivolumab (Opdivo) in advanced melanoma, reported by Larkin et al in JAMA Oncology, suggested similar response rates in patients with BRAF V600 mutant and BRAF wild-type disease.

“The retrospective analysis included data from adult patients with unresectable stage III or stage IV melanoma from four clinical trials. Nivolumab was given at 0.1, 0.3, 1.0, 3.0, or 10.0 mg/kg every 2 weeks until disease progression, treatment discontinuation due to adverse events, withdrawal, or end of study, with 83% of patients receiving the 3 mg/kg dose. Overall, 72% of patients in the BRAF mutant group had received prior BRAF inhibitor therapy. A total of 73% of patients in the BRAF wild-type group and 86% in the mutant group had received at least two prior therapies for advanced disease.

“The investigators concluded, ‘The results of this retrospective analysis suggest that nivolumab has similar efficacy and safety outcomes in patients with wild-type or mutant BRAF, regardless of prior BRAF inhibitor or ipilimumab treatment.’ “


Biodesix Launches GeneStrat Targeted Liquid Biopsy Mutation Test For Patients With Advanced Lung Cancer

“Biodesix, Inc. today announced the launch of GeneStrat™, a targeted liquid biopsy mutation test for genotyping tumors of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The blood test results are available within 72 hours, providing physicians actionable diagnostic information prior to making treatment decisions. GeneStrat is focused exclusively on the clinically actionable EGFR, KRAS, and BRAF mutations often used to guide targeted therapy treatment decisions. GeneStrat also captures the EGFR T790M mutation, which can be used for monitoring the emergence of the primary resistance mutation in the EGFR gene. It is anticipated that two drugs targeting the resistance mutation may be available later this year. GeneStrat uses the ddPCR platform to analyze cell-free tumor DNA and is highly concordant with tissue analysis, currently considered the gold standard.

“Roughly 30% of lung cancer patients either have insufficient biopsy tissue or are not candidates for a biopsy for tumor mutation profiling. Even in cases where tissue biopsy is available, the sense of urgency to treat is great, with one recent study showing that one out of four patients begin cancer treatment before receiving mutation test results. Requiring only a blood draw, GeneStrat offers a fast, minimally invasive alternative to a high-risk tissue biopsy or re-biopsy in patients with insufficient tissue.

“In addition to providing a minimally-invasive source of mutation status, liquid biopsy can be more cost-effective than traditional tissue biopsies. The mean cost of each tissue biopsy is $14,634 across all patients. The cost of a tissue biopsy can be up to four time higher in the 19.3% of patients who have complications associated with the biopsy. GeneStrat liquid biopsy can help avoid the cost and complications of repeat tissue biopsy.”


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.”