The Growing Arsenal of Immunotherapy Drugs for Melanoma


Large numbers of immune cells (T cells in particular) are frequently found within or adjacent to melanoma tumors, indicating that the tumors attract the attention—if not the action—of the immune system. True to its reputation as one of the most ‘immunogenic‘ cancers, melanoma now has more U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved immunotherapy (immune system-targeting) drugs than any other cancer type. As a consequence, metastatic melanoma is no longer the universally fatal disease it was even just 3 or 4 years ago. Continue reading…


Biopsy-Free Detection of Melanoma Metastasis

“According to the results of a new study, a new imaging technique is able to detect the distant spread of melanoma to the lymph nodes, which could help patients avoid potentially risk surgery. Researchers tested the non-invasive technique in a first-in-human study as a potential alternative to standard lymph node surgery.

“The results, from researchers at the University Hospital Essen and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, are published in Science Translational Medicine.

“The novel audio-visual approach used to image patients with melanoma both ex vivo and in vivo significantly improved the tumor metastasis detection rate in excised sentinel lymph nodes compared with standard protocols (22.9% vs 14.2%).”


Video: Dr. Omid Hamid on Vemurafenib and Atezolizumab in Melanoma

“Omid Hamid, MD, Chief, Translational Research and Immunotherapy, Director, Melanoma Therapeutics, The Angeles Clinic, discusses a recent trial investigating the combination of vemurafenib and atezolizumab in melanoma in patients with previously untreated BRAF-positive unresectable or metastatic melanoma.

“The targeted therapy vemurafenib has a great initial response rate and palliative benefit, but does not have long-term durability. Atezolizumab, an immunotherapy, has a low initial response rate, but has the ability to have a high long-term durability, says Hamid.

“With the combination, the toxicities of elevated liver enzymes and rash were initially seen, however the regimen became more tolerable after it was adjusted, says Hamid.”

Click through to watch the video.


Most Experts Not Surprised by Carter's Status

“Former President Jimmy Carter’s announcement that he is free of metastatic melanoma surprised many people but, not most melanoma specialists contacted byMedPage Today.

“With the evolution of modern radiation therapy techniques and targeted drugs, more patients with metastatic melanoma achieve complete and partial remissions, including remission of small brain metastases like the ones identified during the evaluation and initial treatment of Carter. However, the experts — none of whom have direct knowledge of Carter’s treatment or medical records — cautioned that early remission offers no assurance that the former president is out of the woods.”


Anti-PD-1 Agents Superior to Others in Advanced Melanoma

“Immunotherapy targeting the programmed cell death (PD) pathway was associated with better outcomes in patients with metastatic melanoma than any other therapy, a new meta-analysis concludes.

“The meta-analysis was featured in a poster presentation here at the Society for Melanoma Research 2015 Congress.

“Anti-PD-1 agents might be a better choice as a first-line therapeutic option, according to Seongseok Yun, MD, PhD, an internal medicine resident at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, and Nicole Vincelette, a PhD student from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.”


Melanoma's Genetic Trajectories Are Charted in New Study

“An international team of scientists led by UC San Francisco researchers has mapped out the genetic trajectories taken by melanoma as it evolves from early skin lesions, known as precursors, to malignant skin cancer, which can be lethal when it invades other tissues in the body.

“By tracing the genetic changes that take place over time in the development of the disease, the research reaffirms the role of sun exposure in the emergence of precursor lesions, such as the common moles known as nevi, but also suggests that continued ultraviolet radiation (UV) damage to benign precursor lesions may push them on a path toward malignancy.

“More significantly, the study provides new evidence that genetic and cellular characteristics of skin lesions that are neither clearly benign moles nor malignant melanoma place them in a distinctive intermediate category, the existence of which has been hotly debated among dermatologists and pathologists.”


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.”


Targeted Therapy Combinations Still Key in Metastatic Melanoma

“Combinations of targeted therapies continue to advance toward full regulatory approval for patients with metastatic or unresected melanoma, given the substantial benefits seen with these agents. At this time, the FDA is considering two applications for separate combinations of BRAF and MEK inhibiting agents for patients with unresectable or metastatic BRAFV600 mutation-positive melanoma.

“ ‘The future of the treatment of melanoma is clearly going to be in combinations, both for targeted therapy and for immunotherapy,’ said Jeffrey S. Weber, MD, PhD, who recently joined the NYU Langone Medical Center. ‘Already, there is an FDA-approved combination therapy that is targeted; that is dabrafenib and trametinib. There are new combinations coming up, mainly concerning CDK 4/6 and MEK inhibitors in NRAS-mutated but BRAF wild-type melanoma, which is an unmet medical need.’ “


Ipilimumab plus Radiotherapy May Benefit Patients with Metastatic Melanoma

“The combination of ipilimumab and palliative radiation therapy reduced tumor growth and the spread of metastases in some patients with metastatic melanoma, according to prospective, phase 2 study results presented at the ASTRO Annual Meeting.

“Local radiation therapy has the potential to augment the induction of systemic anti-melanoma immune responses when used in combination with systemic anti–CTLA-4 immunotherapy, according to study background.

“Thus, Susan M. Hiniker, MD, instructor in the department of radiation oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues assessed the safety and efficacy of combining ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb) with palliative radiotherapy in patients with stage IV melanoma. Researchers also assessed the induction of anti-melanoma immune response.

“The analysis included data from 20 patients (men, n = 14) aged 18 to 83 years who had stage IV melanoma. Patients received palliative radiotherapy and 3 mg/kg IV ipilimumab every 3 weeks for four treatment cycles. The radiotherapy was initiated within 5 days of the first ipilimumab treatment at one or two melanoma sites.”