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…
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.”
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…