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.
Good news for people with melanomas that have BRAF mutations — the US Food and Drug administration just greenlighted using two targeted treatments at the same time. The two targeted treatments are the BRAF inhibitor Tafinlar (dabrafenib) and the MEK inhibitor Mekinist (trametinib), and both were previously FDA-approved for separate use. Melanomas often become resistant to BRAF inhibitors, and adding the MEK inhibitor could prevent or stave off this resistance.
More than one-third of melanomas are ‘pan-negative,’ meaning they lack known mutations that can be targeted for treatment. But now researchers have identified two new genetic abnormalities in pan-negative melanomas. These abnormalities consist of the BRAF gene joined with another gene (PAPSS1 or TRIM24), and so are called BRAF fusions. The new study showed that about 8% of pan-negative melanomas have BRAF fusions. Next, the researchers grew melanoma cells with these BRAF fusions in the lab and tested known targeted treatments on them. While these cultured cells were not sensitive to the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib, they were sensitive to the MEK inhibitor trametinib, suggesting that MEK inhibitors could be used to target melanomas with these BRAF fusions.
Two pharmaceutical giants are teaming up on a phase I/II clinical trial to see if their anti-melanoma drugs work better together than on their own. The drugs are GlaxoSmithKline’s Mekinist (trametinib), a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved MEK inhibitor (a drug that targets MEK proteins), and Pfizer’s palbociclib, an experimental inhibitor of proteins called cyclin dependent kinases. These proteins make cells divide and are abnormally active in many cancers; the FDA has fast-tracked the review of using palbociclib to treat breast cancer. In addition, GlaxoSmithKline is already testing the combination of Mekinist with dabrafenib, the company’s experimental BRAF inhibitor.
Two targeted treatments that are U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved for melanoma may be even more effective together. The drugs are dabrafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, and trametinib, a MEK inhibitor. In a phase II clinical trial with 160 people, the median survival was nearly 2 years with the combination treatment compared to 20 months with dabrafenib alone. These findings were presented at the 10th International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now, the dabrafenib/trametinib combo has advanced to phase III trials.
Results are encouraging in an ongoing clinical trial of a BRAF inhibitor combined with a MEK inhibitor, according to a presentation at the 2013 European Cancer Congress in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The BRAF inhibitor is vemurafenib, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the MEK inhibitor is cobimetinib (GDC-0973/XL518), which is experimental. The phase I trial has 128 people with melanomas that have BRAFV600 mutations; about half had been treated with BRAF inhibitors previously, while the other half had not. Tumors shrank in 15% of participants and didn’t grow in 43% of those who had been previously treated with BRAF inhibitors. Even better, tumors disappeared in 10%, shrank in 75%, and didn’t grow in 13% of those who had not been previously treated with BRAF inhibitors.
“Although BRAF and MEK inhibitors have proven clinical benefits in melanoma, most patients develop resistance. We report a de novo MEK2-Q60P mutation and BRAF gain in a melanoma from a patient who progressed on the MEK inhibitor trametinib and did not respond to the BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib. We also identified the same MEK2-Q60P mutation along with BRAF amplification in a xenograft tumor derived from a second melanoma patient resistant to the combination of dabrafenib and trametinib. Melanoma cells chronically exposed to trametinib acquired concurrent MEK2-Q60P mutation and BRAF-V600E amplification, which conferred resistance to MEK and BRAF inhibitors. The resistant cells had sustained MAPK activation and persistent phosphorylation of S6K. A triple combination of dabrafenib, trametinib, and the PI3K/mTOR inhibitor GSK2126458 led to sustained tumor growth inhibition. Hence, concurrent genetic events that sustain MAPK signaling can underlie resistance to both BRAF and MEK inhibitors, requiring novel therapeutic strategies to overcome it.”
Melanomas commonly stop responding to targeted therapies, and a new study helps explain why. The researchers linked resistance to BRAF and MEK inhibitors in people with two genetic abnormalities: extra copies of BRAF-V600E, the most common melanoma mutation, as well as a new mutation called MEK2-Q60P. Encouragingly, the researchers also found that adding a third treatment (a PI3K inhibitor) to the mix makes melanomas stop growing in mice. While the team cautions that the solution is unlikely to be as simple of a triple inhibitor treatment for people, this work could help researchers find ways of overcoming drug resistance in melanomas.