TAMPA — A new cocktail of cancer-fighting drugs can help patients with advanced melanoma, a Moffitt Cancer Center researcher has reported in a study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The new research builds on recent advances in therapies for advanced melanoma that center on targeting its genetic fingerprint. Until recently, the deadly skin cancer was considered nearly untreatable in its later stages.
Drugs now are available that can block a mutation in a gene called BRAF, which fuels the cancer. The mutation is present in about half of melanoma cases. If caught early, lesions can be removed surgically, but doctors traditionally had few options once melanoma spreads throughout the body.
Dr. Jeffrey Weber, director of Moffitt's Melanoma Research Center of Excellence, was among the leaders of a national team that sought better results by combining drug therapies to inhibit the BRAF mutation and overcome the tumor's ability to grow resistant to the drugs.
The results of their complex study, involving about 250 patients, are now available online and will publish in print in the Nov. 15 edition of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers found they could improve the outcome for patients through a combination of two drugs, dabrafenib and trametinib. Patients receiving the combination therapy saw their cancers go into remission for 9 1/2 months, compared to 5 1/2 months for those on dabrafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, alone.
Patients receiving the combination treatment also saw their tumors shrink at a higher rate than those receiving the single drug.
"This is an evolutionary development which has important implications," Weber said. "What this shows is you can, to some degree, reverse (drug) resistance."
Additionally, researchers saw more patients respond to the combination therapy. And fewer of them experienced common side effects, which can include additional (though less serious) skin cancers.
The research was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the two drugs. The study involved about two dozen researchers at major cancer centers in the United States and Australia.
Moffitt's Weber, one of five lead authors of the study, called it an important step in advancing drug therapies tailored to the unique genetic profile of each cancer patient.
"These are the first few steps in developing truly personalized medicine for melanoma," he said. "It's only going to get better from here."
Letitia Stein can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330.