“Determining the next step for a patient with melanoma who has failed or is not a candidate for existing targeted therapies or immunotherapies can be a challenge.
“However, there is hope, says Omid Hamid, MD, chief of Translational Research and Immunotherapy, and director of Melanoma Therapeutics at The Angeles Clinic.
“ ‘There are times when you throw your hands in the air and say, “I’ve run out of options,” ‘ he says. ‘But, all you need to do is look in another direction, open another cabinet, and realize that there are a ton of new options for our patients. These are nontraditional agents that maybe would not come to mind, but can be very effective in first-line, second-line, or any line.’
“Currently, several new checkpoint inhibitors and costimulatory molecules are being explored. These include those that target glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor (GITR)—which is expressed on CD4- and CD8-positive T cells—in addition to T-regulatory cells, NK cells, and dendritic cells.”
A clinical trial found that dabrafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, was far more effective in treating melanomas that have BRAF mutations than the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine, according to a report at an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. Patients treated with this drug lived without getting worse for 70% longer than those treated with dacarbazine (5.1 vs. 2.7 months, respectively). Moreover, compared to those treated with vemurafenib in other studies, dabrafenib-treated patients had less risk of another kind of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. This suggests that dabrafenib, which is experimental, could be safer than vemurafenib, which is FDA approved.
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.
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 found that vemurafenib, which was approved by the FDA in 2011, controlled melanomas in about half of people who had been previously treated for this disease. The trial included 132 repeat patients; tumors shrank in 47% of the patients and were not evident in 6% during the course of the trial. Vemurafenib is a BRAF inhibitor and about half of melanoma patients have BRAF mutations. While 26% of patients developed another kind of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, these lesions were successfully removed surgically.
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.
Preliminary results suggest that an imaging technique can give early signs of drug resistance in melanomas. A Journal of Clinical Oncology study found that positron-emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) scans correlated with standard measures of tumor response in seven melanoma patients treated with vemurafenib. The scans also showed that during the third and fourth weeks of treatment, tumors in three patients began to take up and metabolize more of a sugar. This is a sign of cell activity, suggesting that these tumors were starting to resist the drug.
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.