Patients with Metastatic Melanoma Do Better with Immunotherapy Treatment before Zelboraf

The gist: In a clinical trial, patients with stage IV metastatic melanoma had better responses to treatment with vemurafenib (Zelboraf) if they received immunotherapy drugs beforehand than if they received chemotherapy or “kinase inhibitor” drugs beforehand.

“Prior treatment appeared to considerably affect how patients with stage IV metastatic melanoma responded to vemurafenib therapy, according to study results.

“Those who had undergone prior treatment with immunotherapy demonstrated better outcomes with vemurafenib (Zelboraf, Hoffmann-La Roche) than those who underwent prior treatment with chemotherapy or kinase inhibitors, results showed…

“ ‘Our data demonstrate that the type of pretreatment strongly influences the outcome of vemurafenib therapy, with a precedent immunotherapy showing a positive, and a prior chemotherapy and kinase inhibitors showing a negative impact on survival, respectively,’ Ugurel and colleagues wrote. ‘Moreover, we show that the patient’s overall performance status, serum LDH, age and gender independently impact vemurafenib therapy outcome. These findings should be taken into account for future design of therapy sequencing in BRAF V600 mutation-positive melanoma patients.’ ”


New Drug Combo Might Soon Be an Option for People with Advanced Melanoma with BRAF V600 Mutation

The gist: A combination of the drugs cobimetinib and vemurafenib (aka Zelboraf) might soon become a new treatment option for U.S. patients with advanced melanoma whose tumors have a V600 mutation in the BRAF gene. The drug company Genentech submitted a New Drug Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking for FDA approval of the combo. In a clinical trial, Genentech researchers found that patients who take cobimetinib along with vemurafenib do better than patients who take vemurafenib alone. Both drugs are targeted therapies.

“Genentech, a member of the Roche Group (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY), today announced the company has submitted a New Drug Application (NDA) for cobimetinib to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment, in combination with Zelboraf® (vemurafenib), for people with BRAF V600 mutation-positive advanced melanoma. The submission is based on results of the coBRIM Phase III study, which showed people who received the MEK inhibitor cobimetinib plus Zelboraf lived significantly longer without their disease worsening or death (progression-free survival; PFS) compared to Zelboraf alone.

” ‘In the past several years we have made significant progress in treating advanced melanoma, but it remains a serious and difficult to treat cancer that affects more people each year,’ said Sandra Horning, M.D., chief medical officer and head of Global Product Development. ‘We look forward to working with the FDA as they review the NDA and hope the combination of cobimetinib and Zelboraf will soon become a new option for people with BRAF mutation-positive advanced melanoma.’

“In the coBRIM study, cobimetinib and Zelboraf reduced the risk of disease worsening or death by half (hazard ratio [HR]=0.51, 95 percent confidence interval [CI] 0.39-0.68; p<0.0001), with a median PFS of 9.9 months for cobimetinib plus Zelboraf compared to 6.2 months with Zelboraf alone. The safety profile was consistent with a previous study of the combination. The most common Grade 3 or higher adverse events in the combination arm included liver lab abnormalities, elevated creatine phosphokinase (CPK, an enzyme released by muscles) and diarrhea. The most common adverse events seen in the combination arm included diarrhea, nausea, rash, photosensitivity and lab abnormalities. The most common Grade 3 or higher adverse events in the combination arm included liver lab abnormalities, elevated creatine phosphokinase (CPK, an enzyme released by muscles) and diarrhea.”


Exelixis Announces Positive Preliminary Data From an Investigator-Sponsored Phase 1 Trial of XL888 and Vemurafenib

The gist: A drug called XL888 has shown promise for people with unresectable stage III/IV BRAF V600 mutation-positive melanoma. It was tested in a clinical trial with volunteer patients. It is hoped that XL888 could help prevent resistance to the drug vemurafenib (aka Zelboraf). In the trial, a combination of XL888 and vemurafenib was safely given to patients. The patients showed good response to the treatment.

“Exelixis, Inc. (EXEL) today announced preliminary results from a phase 1 investigator-sponsored trial (IST) evaluating the safety and activity of XL888, an Exelixis-discovered small molecule oral inhibitor of Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90), in combination with vemurafenib in patients with unresectable stage III/IV BRAF V600 mutation-positive melanoma. Safety and efficacy results support the further investigation of 90 mg of XL888 twice weekly (BIW) and vemurafenib 960 mg twice daily (BID) in additional studies that would include a third agent.

“The trial results were presented today by Keiran Smalley, Ph.D., an investigator on the trial and an associate professor at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, in a late-breaking oral presentation session at the Society for Melanoma Research 2014 International Congress, which is taking place November 13-16, 2014, in Zurich, Switzerland. Based on these results, as well as findings from coBRIM, the phase 3 pivotal trial of cobimetinib, an Exelixis-discovered MEK inhibitor, and vemurafenib in previously untreated metastatic melanoma patients with a BRAF V600 mutation, the Moffitt Center plans to initiate a phase 1b IST of the triple combination of vemurafenib, cobimetinib, and XL888 in a similar patient population.

“ ‘The BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib is active in BRAF-mutated malignant melanoma, but development of resistance is common. Preclinical studies led by Keiran Smalley, Ph.D. suggested that most BRAF inhibitor resistance mechanisms involve proteins that are clients of HSP90, and the preclinical evaluation of XL888 showed that it is highly active in vemurafenib-resistant melanoma models,’ said Jeffrey Weber, MD, Ph.D., director of the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center at the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, FL. ‘The current phase 1 data show that both drugs can be given together, and compelling initial response results suggest potential cooperative activity.’ “


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.”


Roche Drugs Shown Effective in Breast and Skin Cancers

The gist: Drug company giant Roche is mixing drugs in new combinations to provide melanoma and breast cancer patients with potential new treatments. This article outlines the company’s endeavors.

“Mixing drugs in various combinations has given Roche Holding AG (ROG) effective new treatments for skin and breast cancer strains.

“Combining Zelboraf, a melanoma drug now on the market, with experimental cobimetinib showed significant improvement over Zelboraf alone, according to data presented today at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting in Madrid.

“Roche said yesterday that a combination of two breast cancer drugs, plus chemotherapy, could add almost 16 months to the lives of a class of patients. Roche today also reported data from an early-stage study of its MPDL3280A immune therapy treatment in bladder cancer which showed a 52 percent response rate. If successfully developed, the drug will be the first new treatment for bladder cancer in 30 years, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said.

“ ‘This is a good meeting for Roche,’ said Asthika Goonewardene, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘They’re firing in three different areas.'”


ESMO 2014 Press Release: New Data on Combination Treatments for Melanoma

The gist: Researchers tested a new melanoma treatment in a clinical trial—a research study with volunteer patients. The treatment combines the targeted drugs vemurafenib and cobimetinib. All of the patients who participated in the trial had melanoma tumors with mutations in the BRAF gene, as detected by molecular testing. The combination treatment proved more beneficial for these patients than vemurafenib alone.

“Combination therapy with both BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib and MEK inhibitor cobimetinib achieves greater progression-free survival and response rates than vemurafenib plus placebo in BRAF-mutation positive melanoma, according to phase III data presented at the ESMO 2014 Congress in Madrid, Spain.

“ ‘Before the results of this study, we knew that cobimetinib plus vemurafenib could be safely delivered together with highly promising rates of tumour shrinkage; however until the performance of a scientifically rigorous randomised trial the potential magnitude of this benefit could not be measured,’ says lead author Dr Grant McArthur, head of the Cancer Therapeutics Program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

“The ongoing CoBRIM study enrolled 495 treatment-naive patients with BRAFV600-mutation-positive unresectable locally advanced or metastatic melanoma. Patients were randomised to received a 28-day treatment cycle of vemurafenib (960 mg, twice daily), and either cobimetinib or placebo (60 mg daily from days 1-21), with a primary end-point of progression-free survival.

“Patients in the combination arm of the study showed a significantly improved median progression-free survival of 9.9 months, compared to 6.2 months in the placebo arm, and a 49% reduction in the risk of progression. Researchers observed a response rate of 68% in the combination arm and 45% in the control arm, including a complete response in 10% of patients treated with combination therapy compared to 4% of patients treated with vemurafenib alone.”


Successful Vemurafenib Treatment of Progressive BRAF V600E–Mutated Anaplastic Pleomorphic Xanthoastrocytoma

Editor’s note: Oncologists sometimes suggest a treatment based on specific mutations found in a patient’s tumor. People with metastatic melanoma whose tumors have mutations in the BRAF gene are often treated with the targeted drug vemurafenib (brand name Zelboraf). But BRAF mutations can also be found in other types of cancer. This story tells how a patient with a brain tumor that had a BRAF mutation was successfully treated with vemurafenib.

“The BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib (Zelboraf) is approved for treatment of BRAF-mutated metastatic melanoma. There are reports indicating that vemurafenib may be active in the treatment of intracranial neoplasms with BRAF mutations. As reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Lee et al from Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center successfully treated a BRAF V600E–mutated glioma with vemurafenib monotherapy.

“The patient was a 41-year-old man with WHO grade 2 anaplastic pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma with a BRAF V600E mutation who developed radiographic progression despite surgery, radiation, and treatment with temozolomide. The patient was initially observed with serial imaging for approximately 2 years until magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed increased surrounding enhancement. Treatment with temozolomide was followed by radiographic progression after two cycles.”


Drugs to Avoid in Patients on Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors

Editor’s note: More and more people with cancer are being treated with drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). As with any other drug, oncologists who prescribe TKIs must be aware of other drugs a patient is taking to ensure there will not be a dangerous drug-drug interaction. Researchers recently published a report outlining known and potential drug-drug interactions between TKIs and other drugs. Oncologists and patients may wish to take these into account when considering cancer treatment with TKIs.

“With the rapid and widespread uptake of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) in oncology over the past several years, serious drug–drug interactions are an “increasing risk,” according a new report.

“To guarantee the safe use of TKIs, ‘a drugs review for each patient is needed,’ write Frank G.A. Jansman, PharmD, PhD, from Deventer Hospital in the Netherlands, and colleagues in a review published in the July issue of the Lancet Oncology.

“The review provides a comprehensive overview of known and suspected interactions between TKIs and conventional prescribed drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal medicines.

“All 15 TKIs approved to date by the US Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency are evaluated.

“They are axitinib (Inlyta, Pfizer), crizotinib (Xalkori, Pfizer), dasatinib (Sprycel, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka America), erlotinib (Tarceva, Osi Pharmaceuticals), gefitinib (Iressa, AstraZeneca), imatinib (Gleevec, Novartis), lapatinib (Tykerb, GlaxoSmithKline), nilotinib (Tasigna, Novartis), pazopanib (Votrient, GlaxoSmithKline), regorafenib (Stivarga, Bayer), ruxolitinib (Jakafi, Incyte), sorafenib (Nexavar, Bayer), sunitinib (Sutent, Pfizer), vandetanib (Caprelsa, AstraZeneca), and vemurafenib (Zelboraf, Roche).”