The Trouble With KRAS


Mutations in the gene that encodes the KRAS protein are frequently encountered in various human cancers. They are found in about 30% of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs), making KRAS the single most common gene mutated in this cancer. The rate of KRAS mutations in other cancers, such as pancreatic or colorectal, is even higher.

A mutant KRAS protein that is always in the “on” position activates many signaling pathways, many of which lead to unrestrained growth and proliferation of cancer cells. This makes KRAS an appealing treatment target. However, challenges abound, and researchers are exploring several different approaches to treating KRAS-mutant cancers.

Unlike mutations in proteins known as receptor tyrosine kinases, like EGFR or ALK, mutated KRAS is a very difficult protein to target with cancer drugs. (So much so that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has undertaken a special effort to intensify the effort towards successful targeting of mutant KRAS, known as the RAS Initiative.) Continue reading…


Metastatic Melanoma: Not Quite Curable…But Getting There


By 2050, the number of deaths due to malignant melanoma in the U.S. could be three times lower than peak levels reached before 1960. Researchers presented the data behind this prediction at the 2017 European Cancer Congress in January.

It is unclear how much of this anticipated decline in deaths can be attributed to the availability of new, effective treatments. However, it is obvious that much-increased awareness of sunlight exposure as the single factor most responsible for the development of skin melanoma has contributed to lower incidence of the disease.

In any case, the armament of treatments available for metastatic melanoma is currently such that this diagnosis has transformed from being almost universally fatal (even just a few years ago) into a being largely treatable. Since 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved eight new drugs for melanoma. Continue reading…


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…


Immunotherapy, MEK Inhibitor Combo Effective for BRAF Wild-Type Melanoma

Excerpt:

“The combination of atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and cobimetinib (Cotellic) may lead to a higher overall response (ORR) and a longer progression-free survival (PFS) than either agent alone in patients with metastatic melanoma, according to findings presented at the 2016 Society for Melanoma Research (SMR) Annual Meeting.

“The findings were part of a phase Ib dose-escalation and dose-expansion study, which looked at the PD-L1 inhibitor and MEK inhibitor together in advanced solid tumors. Data on a cohort of 22 patients with ocular melanoma (n = 2) and non-ocular melanoma (n = 20) was presented at the meeting. Among patients in the non-ocular cohort, the ORR was 45% and the disease-control rate (complete response, partial response, and stable disease) was 75%. Median PFS was 12 months (95% CI, 2.8-16.7).”

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Atezolizumab Combos Highly Effective for Advanced Melanoma

Excerpt:

“The addition of the PD-L1 inhibitor atezolizumab (Tecentriq) to the MEK inhibitor cobimetinib (Cotellic) and the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib (Zelboraf) induced a high response rate for patients with BRAF-mutant unresectable melanoma, according to findings from a phase Ib study presented at the 2016 Society for Melanoma Research Annual Meeting.

“At the data cutoff of June 15, 2016, 30 patients had received ≥1 dose of atezolizumab. The response rate with the triplet was 83%, which included 3 complete responses (10%) and 21 partial responses. Overall, 29 of the 30 patients were evaluable for response, with just 1 patient experiencing primary progressive disease. At the time of the analysis, median duration of response and progression-free survival were not yet reached.”

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Final OS Analysis Confirms Cobimetinib/Vemurafenib Benefit in Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Combination therapy with cobimetinib (Cotellic) and vemurafenib (Zelboraf) reduced the risk of death by 30% compared with vemurafenib alone in patients with BRAF-positive advanced melanoma, according to the final survival analysis of the phase III coBRIM study that has now been published in The Lancet Oncology.

“The targeted combination improved median overall survival (OS) by 4.9 months versus single-agent vemurafenib (HR, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.55-0.90; P = .005). The OS rates for the combination at 1 and 2 years were 74.5% and 48.3%, respectively.

“ ‘Melanoma is one of the few cancers that has increased in incidence over the past 30 years, and until recently, people with advanced forms of the disease have had few treatment options. Five years ago, the survival of people with advanced melanoma was measured in months, and now we have medicines that are helping people live years,’ Josina Reddy, MD, PhD, senior group medical director at Genentech, the company that manufactures the combination, said in an interview with OncLive.”

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Melanoma: New Drugs and New Challenges (Part 1 of 2)


New targeted and immunotherapy drugs have changed the diagnosis of metastatic melanoma from a death sentence into a disease that can potentially be managed and even cured. Nevertheless, these new drugs do not work in all patients, or they may stop working after a transient response. This post (part one of two) will describe ongoing efforts to find drug combinations with higher efficacy than single drugs and decipher the mechanisms underlying drug resistance. Continue reading…


Cobimetinib, Vemurafenib Improved Survival in BRAF V600–Mutated Melanoma

Excerpt:

“Combination treatment with cobimetinib and vemurafenib resulted in significantly improved overall and progression-free survival in patients with previously untreated BRAF V600mutated advanced melanoma, according to updated efficacy results of the coBRIM trial published in Lancet Oncology.

“ ‘Patients treated with the combination of cobimetinib and vemurafenib achieved a higher objective response, longer progression-free survival, and longer overall survival compared with patients treated with vemurafenib alone,’ wrote researchers led by Paolo A. Ascierto, MD, of the Istituto Nazionale Tumori Fondazione G Pascale in Naples, Italy. ‘The combination of cobimetinib and vemurafenib was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency for the treatment of advanced BRAF V600mutant melanoma and represents a new standard of treatment for patients with this disease.’ ”

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Vemurafenib/Cobimetinib Combo for Melanoma Approved by FDA

“The FDA has approved a combination of vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and cobimetinib (Cotellic) to treat patients with metastatic or unresectable BRAF V600E/K mutation-positive melanoma. The approval was based on based on an extension in progression-free survival (PFS) in the phase III coBRIM study.

“In the data submitted to the FDA, the median PFS with the combination was 12.3 versus 7.2 months with vemurafenib plus placebo (HR, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.46-0.72). PFS was the primary endpoint of the study with secondary outcome measures including overall survival (OS), objective response rate (ORR), duration of response, and safety.”