AstraZeneca-Novartis Three-Drug Melanoma Treatment Found Safe

“A first-of-its-kind combination of three drugs to treat a deadly form of skin cancer can be taken safely, passing the first hurdle to regulatory approval for a potentially long-lasting treatment.

“The treatment was tested in an early-stage trial that was a collaboration between AstraZeneca Plc and Novartis AG. Researchers combined two drugs, dabrafenib and trametinib — a so-called doublet therapy that has been proven effective in targeting melanomas with mutations in the BRAF gene — with an immune system-based treatment that may prevent the disease from relapsing.

“Dabrafenib, sold as Tafinlar, and trametinib, sold as Mekinist, were developed by GlaxoSmithKline Plc and acquired by Novartis in March. The immune therapy drug, MEDI4736, is being developed by AstraZeneca.

“Melanoma is a rare but deadly form of skin cancer for which a number of drugs have been approved in recent years. Among them are BRAF inhibitors like dabrafenib, which target mutations found in about half of all melanoma patients, as well as immune therapies like Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Yervoy, which unleash the body’s own immune system. Because the immune system can be trained, those therapies may be more durable than other forms of treatment.”


Dabrafenib plus Trametinib Improves Health-Related Quality of Life in Metastatic Melanoma

“The addition of trametinib to dabrafenib improved health-related quality of life and reduced pain in patients with BRAF V600-mutated metastatic melanoma, according to results of a randomized phase 3 study.

“The combination of dabrafenib (Tafinlar, GlaxoSmithKline) and trametinib (Mekinist, GlaxoSmithKline) received accelerated approval from the FDA in 2014 based on the results of a phase 1/2 study that compared the combination with dabrafenib monotherapy. Results from a phase 3 trial later demonstrated significantly improved PFS and objective rate response with the combination vs. dabrafenib monotherapy in patients with BRAF V600 metastatic melanoma.

“In the current analysis, Dirk Schadendorf, MD, of the department of dermatology at the University Hospital Essen in Germany, and colleagues sought to evaluate the effect of the combination on health-related quality of life among patients treated in the phase 3 study.”


Triple Combo: Two Targeted Drugs Plus Immunotherapy Show Promise in BRAF-Mutant Melanoma

“Results of a new study by UCLA researchers has found that a groundbreaking new triple combination therapy shows promising signs of more effectively controlling advanced melanoma than previous BRAF + MEK inhibitor or BRAF inhibitor + immunotherapy combos alone, and with increased immune response and fewer side effects.

“An estimated 70,000 new cases of metastatic melanoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, and of those 8,000 will die of the disease. About 50 percent of these men and women (or 35,000 a year) have a mutated protein called a BRAF mutation, which in most cases allows melanoma to eventually build up a resistance to many drug therapies.

“In the new study led by UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member Dr. Antoni Ribas and colleague Dr. Siwen Hu-Lieskovan, UCLA scientists combined targeted therapies utilizing a BRAF inhibitor (dabrafenib) and MEK inhibitor (trametinib) with immunotherapy. The three together are shown to be more effective treatments by sensitizing the patients’ own immune system to enhance immunotherapy, and reduce the probability of the melanoma eventually developing resistance.

“This is a significant advance compared to previous drug combination findings, in which a combined BRAF inhibitor (vemurafenib) with immunotherapy (ipilimumab) caused serious liver toxicity in some patients, and the targeted therapies (BRAF and/or MEK inhibitors) became less effective and reactivated cancer cell growth.”


Clovis Oncology Enters Into Oncology Clinical Trial Collaboration With GlaxoSmithKline

The gist: Scientists hope that a promising drug called rociletinib could be combined with a drug called trametinib to treat people with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors have mutations in the EGFR gene. Both drugs are targeted therapy drugs. The combination might help treat people whose tumors are resistant to other targeted treatments, due to EGFR T790M mutations. The combination will be tested soon in a clinical trial with volunteer patients. Later, other clinical trials might try combining rociletinib with other drugs.

“ ‘We have seen significant activity in EGFR mutant NSCLC patients treated with rociletinib monotherapy, and so an important next step in our research is to examine rociletinib in combination with other targeted therapies that may also impact acquired resistance to EGFR inhibitors,’ said Lecia V. Sequist, MD, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead investigator for this combination study.

“ ‘As we continue to see compelling activity for rociletinib single-agent therapy at our selected dose, we look forward to exploring combination trials in both T790M-positive and T790M-negative patients,’ said Patrick J. Mahaffy, President and CEO of Clovis Oncology. ‘We believe that given the tolerability profile of rociletinib, particularly its lack of cutaneous toxicity, it may be a good candidate for combination therapy with trametinib, and other relevant targeted therapies. We intend to announce additional combination studies over the next few months.’ “


Dabrafenib–Trametinib Combination Extended Survival in Metastatic Melanoma

The gist: A recent clinical trial with volunteer patients compared two treatments for metastatic melanoma. It showed that one of the treatments might give longer survival times for people whose tumors have mutations called BRAF V600E or BRAF V600K. This treatment combines the drugs dabrafenib and trametinib. In the trial, some patients were treated with the combination, and some were treated with only the drug vemurafenib (aka Zelboraf). People who took dabrafenib and trametinib lived several months longer than people who took vemurafenib. None of the patients had taken any previous treatments for their melanoma.

“The combination of dabrafenib and trametinib significantly extended OS compared with vemurafenib monotherapy in patients with treatment-naive metastatic melanoma who harbored BRAF V600E or V600K mutations, according to results of a randomized, open-label phase 3 study.

“The regimens demonstrated comparable toxicity profiles, researchers wrote.

“ ‘Together with the previously reported phase 2 and 3 trials of dabrafenib plus trametinib as compared with dabrafenib monotherapy, these data provide clear evidence for the benefit of this combination therapy over BRAF monotherapy in prolonging survival,’ Caroline Robert, MD, PhD, head of the dermatology unit at Institut Gustave-Roussy in Paris, and colleagues wrote.”


Immune System-Activating Drugs in Combination Treatments May Be Next Big Thing for Melanoma


Among solid tumors, the curative potential of immunotherapies has been explored most in melanoma. One reason for this is that melanoma tumors often contain so-called immune infiltrates—patches of T cells, the killer cells of the immune system. It seems that these fighter cells arrive at the ‘battlefield’ to target tumor cells for killing, but instead become ‘frozen,’ unable to attack.  How to activate the tumor-killing potential of T cells has been an area of intense and fruitful research, leading to the development of several immunotherapy drugs. Continue reading…


New Standard in Melanoma: Combo of BRAF and MEK Inhibitors

The gist: Two new, similar melanoma treatments have been tested in clinical trials—research studies with volunteer patients. Both of the trials are focused on people with advanced melanoma whose tumors have mutations in the BRAF gene. Such patients are often treated with a targeted therapy called a BRAF inhibitor, but their tumors often become resistant and keep growing. In these two trials, the researchers hope that combining BRAF inhibitors with other targeted drugs known as MEK inhibitors might help patients avoid resistance. One of the trials tested a combination of the drugs vemurafenib and cobimetinib. The other trial combined dabrafenib and trametinib. In both trials, patients treated with the combination treatment fared better than patients treated with just a BRAF inhibitor alone.

“For patients with advanced melanoma that isBRAF-mutation positive, the combination of a BRAF and MEK inhibitor works better than a BRAF inhibitor alone. The data come from 2 phase 3 trials presented here at the presidential session of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress 2014.

“Experts here say that such combinations should be the new standard of care in this patient population, which accounts for about 40% of all melanoma.

“At present, the first-line treatment for these patients is a BRAF inhibitor used alone, but while these drugs can elicit dramatic responses, they do not last, and after about 5 or 6 months, patients relapse. The tumor develops resistance to the drug via the MAPK pathway, and this is blocked by a MEK inhibitor. Adding a MEK inhibitor to the BRAF inhibitor from the beginning of treatment blocks this resistance pathway and improves outcomes.

“The 2 new trials are known as COMBI-v and coBRIM.

“Both studies used vemurafenib (Zelboraf, Roche/Plexxikon) as the single BRAF inhibitor, but each used a different combination of BRAF and MEK inhibitor.”


Targeted Combination Therapy Halts Disease, Extends Life in Advanced Melanoma Patients

The gist: Researchers tested a new melanoma treatment in a clinical trial—a research study with volunteer patients. The treatment combines the targeted drugs dabrafenib and trametinib. All of the patients who participated in the trial had inoperable stage IIIC or stage IV melanoma. Also, each patient’s tumors had one of two particular mutations in the BRAF gene, known as V600E and V600K. In the trial, patients who were treated with the combination therapy had significantly lower chances of their cancer worsening and lower chances of death.

“A world-first study in today’s New England Journal of Medicine heralds the efficacy of a targeted combination drug therapy after reporting major declines in the risk of disease progression and death in people with metastatic melanoma.

“The multi-centre, double-blind, randomised, phase 3 trial compared oral dabrafenib (150 mg twice daily) and oral trametinib (2 mg once daily) combination therapy with oral dabrafenib (150 mg twice daily) and placebo.

“All trial patients had inoperable stage 3C or 4 metastatic melanoma that had a BRAF gene mutation V600E or V600K. Among cancer patients with metastatic melanoma, about 40 per cent have a BRAF gene mutation – an abnormality that assists some melanoma tumours to grow and spread.

“Led by Associate Professor Georgina Long of Melanoma Institute Australia at the University of Sydney, the finding affirms accumulating evidence of the efficacy of targeted combination therapies in extending life and halting disease progression in patients with cancers that carry genetic mutations that resist monotherapies.”


New Treatment for Melanoma of the Eye Could be Game Changer


Uveal (ocular) melanoma is a difficult-to-treat type of melanoma found in the eye. Remarkably resistant to chemotherapy and prone to metastasis, it is often treated with surgery and/or radiation. Earlier this year, I wrote about new scientific findings that could lead to new targeted treatments for uveal melanoma. These would take advantage of abnormal molecular characteristics of tumor cells. Now, another targeted drug called selumetinib has entered the spotlight. It was recently tested in patients in a clinical trial with promising results. Continue reading…