Lung Cancer Highlights from ASCO 2016


This year, the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) did not produce any truly groundbreaking revelations about new treatments for lung cancer. However, researchers did report quite a few positive findings, and some disappointing ones. I have summarized some of the more prominent presentations below. Continue reading…


Roche Buoyed by Early Data on Atezolizumab in Advanced Melanoma

“Swiss drugmaker Roche released on Monday what it called encouraging early data on cancer drug atezolizumab in combination therapy for treating a form of advanced melanoma.

“A phase Ib study of atezolizumab (MPDL3280A), used in combination with the BRAF inhibitor Zelboraf for previously untreated BRAFV600 mutation-positive inoperable or metastatic melanoma, showed adverse events were “manageable and generally reversible”, it said.

“It showed the combination resulted in an objective response rate of 76 percent of people, including three complete responders.”


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.”


Exelixis Announces Positive Overall Survival Results from Phase 3 Pivotal Trial of Cobimetinib in Combination with Vemurafenib in Patients with BRAF V600 Mutation-Positive Advanced Melanoma

“Exelixis, Inc.EXEL, -1.02% today announced positive overall survival (OS) results from coBRIM, the phase 3 pivotal trial evaluating cobimetinib, a specific MEK inhibitor discovered by Exelixis, in combination with vemurafenib in previously untreated patients with unresectable locally advanced or metastatic melanoma carrying a BRAF V600 mutation. Exelixis’ collaborator Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, informed the company that coBRIM met its secondary endpoint of demonstrating a statistically significant and clinically meaningful increase in overall survival for patients receiving the combination of cobimetinib and vemurafenib, as compared to vemurafenib monotherapy. Ongoing study monitoring did not identify any new safety signals. Long-term safety data are expected later this year. These data will be the subject of a presentation at an upcoming medical meeting.”


New Kind of Cancer Study Finds New Targets for Tailored Treatments

“A new kind of cancer study supports the idea that traditional treatment can be turned on its head, with patients given targeted therapy based not on where their tumors started but on their own genetic mutations.

“Researchers used a targeted melanoma drug to treat patients with a range of cancers, from lung cancer to brain cancer, who weren’t being helped by traditional chemotherapy any more. Even though they had many different types of tumors, they all had one thing in common — a genetic mutation called BRAFV600.

“It’s a mutation familiar to doctors who treat melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It’s seen in about half of melanoma cases. A pill called vemurafenib, sold under the brand name Zelboraf, specifically targets the mutation. It helps about half of patients with melanoma who have the mutation.

“The same mutation is sometimes seen in colon cancer, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, brain tumors and some blood cancers.”


Cobimetinib and Vemurafenib Combination Treatment Is Highly Active in BRAF+ Melanoma

“Roche (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY) today announced follow-up data from two studies of the investigational MEK inhibitor cobimetinib in combination with Zelboraf® (vemurafenib). Updated data from the pivotal coBRIM Phase III study showed the combination helped people with previously untreated BRAF V600 mutation-positive advanced melanoma live a median of one year (12.3 months) without their disease worsening or death (progression-free survival; PFS) compared to 7.2 months with Zelboraf alone (hazard ratio [HR]=0.58, 95 percent confidence interval [CI] 0.46-0.72).1

“ ‘The combination of cobimetinib and Zelboraf extended the time people lived without their disease getting worse to a year,’ said Sandra Horning, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development. ‘These results are exciting because they underscore the importance of combining medicines that target the signals, which cause about half of all melanomas to grow.’ “


Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Melanoma: New Directions


The drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014 and 2015, respectively. These two competing blockbuster drugs are already changing the outlook in metastatic melanoma, previously considered to be a fatal disease. Known as ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors,’ they work by releasing ‘brakes’ on a patient’s own immune system, freeing it to attack tumors. In the wake of their success, researchers are now taking immune checkpoint inhibition in new directions. Continue reading…


Drugs That Work in Melanomas with BRAF Mutation Also Work in Lung Cancers with Same Mutation

“A subset of lung cancer patients can derive important clinical benefits from drugs that are more commonly used to treat melanoma, the authors of a new academic clinical trial in Europe have reported at the European Lung Cancer Conference (ELCC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Dr. Oliver Gautschi, a medical oncologist from Lucern Cantonal Hospital in Switzerland, presented the results of the retrospective EURAF cohort study, which included lung cancer patients whose tumours carried specific mutations in the BRAF gene. The study was conducted by a network of European oncologists, without company involvement.

“BRAF mutations are commonly seen in melanoma patients, and are found in about 2% of lung adenocarcinomas, Gautschi explains. Several inhibitors of the B-Raf protein, including vemurafenib and dabrafenib, have been developed for use in melanoma patients, however there is currently no approved drug for BRAF-mutant lung cancer.

“As a result, experience with B-Raf inhibitors in lung cancer remains limited. ‘In the current study, we wanted to find out how many patients in Europe received B-Raf inhibitors outside of a clinical trial, and what their outcomes were,’ Gautschi says.

“The EURAF study gathered information on 35 lung cancer patients who had been identified as carrying BRAF mutations, who were treated with B-Raf inhibitors between 2012 and 2014.”


Super Patient: Patient Advocates Help Susan Steel Win Admittance to Clinical Trials


Update:  We are deeply saddened to report that Susan passed away on January 13, 2016. It is a privilege to continue to share her story and keep her memory alive.

When Susan Steel first noticed the mole that derailed her life ten years ago, she was busy raising two children and running two businesses. “I just wasn’t paying attention,” she says. It wasn’t until the mole grew and started to bleed that she finally saw a doctor—and then she was hit with the news that she had melanoma and that it had spread to her lymph nodes.

“My life changed very fast,” Susan recalls. “I was told that my chances were very slim and that I should get my affairs in order.” Continue reading…