A study in The Lancet shows that the drug ipilimumab could treat melanomas that have spread to the brain, particularly in people who do yet not have neurological symptoms. Of 51 such patients treated with ipilimumab, 12 had tumors in the brain that shrank or did not get worse and 14 had tumors outside the brain that shrank or did not get worse. Ipilimumab (Yervoy) is an immune system booster that the FDA has approved for treating advanced melanomas.
- laboratory studies
An experimental drug could help control some melanomas that have BRAF or NRAS mutations, according to a report at an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. Tumors shrank or did not get worse in 8 out of 35 patients with the most common BRAF mutation (V600E), and in 6 out of 28 patients with NRAS mutations. This is the first targeted treatment for melanomas that have NRAS mutations. BRAF and NRAS mutations can activate a protein called MEK that is involved in cell division. The experimental drug, which is called MEK162, is a MEK inhibitor. The side effects of MEK162, which included diarrhea, rashes and swelling, were manageable.
An early stage clinical trial suggests that dabrafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, could treat melanomas that have spread to the brain. The study, reported in The Lancet, included 10 people with brain metastases of melanomas that had BRAF mutations. Tumors shrank in 9 patients and were not evident in 4 patients. This is a surprise because the drug had not been expected to cross the blood-brain barrier effectively. Indeed, melanoma patients with brain metastases have been routinely excluded from previous trials of vemurafenib (Zelboraf) and other BRAF inhibitors.
A New England Journal of Medicine study reports a promising new approach to treating melanomas with BRAF mutations, which often respond to BRAF inhibitors for just a short time. Melanoma patients treated with trametinib were stable (ie, did not get worse) for three times longer than those treated with dacarbazine, a conventional chemotherapy drug (4.8 vs. 1.5 months, respectively). Trametinib inhibits MEK, a protein that is activated by BRAF and is involved in cell division. The drug’s most common side effects were rash, diarrhea, and swelling in the legs, which could be controlled by periodically adjusting the dose.
Primary source: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1203421
Researchers identified a new mutation (BRAF L597) in a melanoma patient and then tested for it in 49 other melanomas that had no known cancer-linked mutations, which account for about half of all melanomas. They found that BRAF L597 occurred in 4% of the other melanomas tested. The study, which appeared in Cancer Discovery, also showed that tumors with this mutation respond to a MEK inhibitor called TAK-733. The existence of a targeted treatment, coupled with the new mutation’s relatively high incidence, lead the researchers to suggest routinely screening melanomas for BRAF L597.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends giving people in England and Wales access to vemurafenib and ipilimumab via the National Health Service (NHS). The FDA has already approved these drugs for treating metastatic melanoma in the U.S. Initially, the cost of these treatments was a stumbling block in the UK and the watchdog institute’s recommendation comes with the caveat that manufacturers must provide a discount to the NHS.
An ongoing clinical trial found that 26% of melanoma patients treated with vemurafenib (Zelboraf®) were alive at 3 years—far longer than the average survival time of 9 months with conventional chemotherapy. Vemurafenib is a BRAF inhibitor and this trial includes 32 people with the most common BRAF mutation (V600E). In addition, five people survived at 3 years and 4 months; three of them had no evidence of disease.
Melanoma patients live longer when treated with ipilimumab than with an experimental tumor vaccine called gp100, according to a study by the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. People treated with ipilimumab lived 10 months, while those who were not lived 6.5 months. In addition, ipilimumab did not make people’s quality of life worse. People had the same symptoms—nausea, vomiting, digestive disorders, fatigue, and pain—whether they were treated with the drug or with a placebo.
A new drug combination could treat melanomas that resist therapy with a single drug, suggests research that appeared in Cancer Discovery on melanoma cells grown in the laboratory. The researchers tested melanoma cells that had BRAF mutations and resisted treatment with the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib, and that had NRAS mutations, which resist many treatments. The most effective combination treatment was statins, which are commonly used to treat high cholesterol, but can also kill melanoma cells, and drugs that inhibit proteins called cyclin-dependent kinases, which are involved in cell division.