Vemurafenib Leads the Pack in new Melanoma Drugs, Research to be Presented at ASCO


Melanoma is now being treated with drugs and new treatment regimes that have shown great promise

leading the pack

Melanoma is now being treated with drugs and new treatment regimes that have shown great promise. Leading the pack in new melanoma drugs is Roche, with their drug, vemurafenib. For patient with metastatic melanoma, new drugs such as vemurafenib, offer hope for a prolonged survival. Metastatic melanoma claims about 8700 American lives each year. But with new developments in melanoma drugs, this number may soon be slashed.

Some of the 2500 research studies being presented at this year’s ASCO conference will involve data on the newest melanoma drugs and combination therapies. At ASCO, doctors are expected to present data on the effectiveness and survival rates of patients taking vemurafenib.

In addition to the promising new research on vemurafenib, there will also be data presented on the idea of combination therapy for melanoma patients. A recent study on combination therapy involves GlaxoSmithKline’s drug GSK2118436, which works by blocking one mutated protein that spurs melanoma’s spread, in combination with another treatment that thwarts a related growth-promoting molecule to keep cancer from evading treatment. It is believed that the study may help provide a clue to whether this approach to control resistance is indeed viable.

Until this year, there were only 2 drugs approved by the FDA to treat melanoma, neither of which offered a survival benefit. Currently there are many promising drugs, some approved and some still in the developmental stages, which show much more promise than anything developed within the last 10 years. In fact, on March 25, Bristol-Myer’s drug, Yervoy, was approved for the treatment of melanoma and was the first drug proven to extend the survival of patients with advanced melanoma. Other companies, including Pfizer and Bayer, have also created novel treatments for melanoma, which are in the final stages of development.

Both vemurafenib and GSK2118436 have been shown in trials to successfully shrink tumors beyond expectations. The downside, however, is that during trials, patients on vemurafenib often stopped responding after about 6 or 7 months.

The recent advancements have allowed researchers to make progress in a battle against one of the toughest cancers by attacking on multiple fronts. Vemurafenib, for example, works to slow the spread of cancer by hitting a mutation in the protein BRAF. This mutation is believed to be the driving force in half of all melanomas. Yervoy works more indirectly by allowing the body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.

More research and data will be presented at this year’s ASCO conference.

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Neil D. Gross, MD, FACS
Harriet Kluger, MD, Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Medicine (Oncology) and of Dermatology; director, Yale SPORE in Skin Cancer; vice chair, Translational Research, Internal Medicine; chief, Division of Skin and Kidney Cancer; associate cancer center director, Education, Training and Faculty Development; deputy section chief, Medical Oncology, Yale Cancer Center
Paul D. Nathan, MBBS, PhD, FRCP
Jeffrey S. Weber, MD, PhD
Patricia A. Possik, PhD