An ongoing clinical trial found that 26% of melanoma patients treated with vemurafenib (Zelboraf®) were alive at 3 years—far longer than the average survival time of 9 months with conventional chemotherapy. Vemurafenib is a BRAF inhibitor and this trial includes 32 people with the most common BRAF mutation (V600E). In addition, five people survived at 3 years and 4 months; three of them had no evidence of disease.
A JAMA Surgery study clarified when melanoma is likely to return in people determined to be cancer-free by sentinel lymph node biopsy. The researchers found that melanoma recurred in 16% of 515 such patients and that 4% of them had tumors in the lymph nodes that had been tested. Recurrence was more likely when the initial tumors were on the head or neck and were deeper (2.7 vs. 1.8 mm). Recurrence was less likely in women and in people who were younger when first diagnosed.
Biotech company Genentech has added a MEK inhibitor to a phase III trial of vemurafenib, an FDA-approved BRAF inhibitor. MEK inhibitors have been shown to counteract resistance to BRAF inhibitors. The experimental MEK inhibitor is called GDC-0973, and is also known as XL-518 or RG7421. Vemurafenib (Zelboraf®) targets melanomas with BRAF V600 mutations, which are found in about half of these aggressive skin cancers. Genentech is part of the Roche Group; the two companies are conducting this combination treatment trial jointly.
New research in Nature shows that the immune system can control tumors permanently without destroying cells. The researchers treated cancers with two proteins that activate the immune system (interferon-g and tumor necrosis factor) and found that the combination kept tumors from growing by making the cells dormant. This work could ultimately lead to cancer treatments that are both effective and free of side effects, suggesting that we shift from the “war on cancer” strategy of killing tumor cells to focus instead on restoring the body’s innate ability to arrest tumor development.