About 50 percent of patients with metastatic melanoma — some 4,000 people a year — have the BRAF mutation and can be treated with Zelboraf. More than 50 percent of them respond well to the drug, but the responses usually last only a few months. With immunotherapy, fewer patients respond, but the responses are more durable. Treating metastatic melanoma by combining immunotherapy with a drug that inhibits the cancer-spreading activity of a common gene mutation significantly increased survival times in an animal model, according to a study recently published in Cancer Research.
In the study, animals that received a combination of the recently approved BRAF inhibitor Zelboraf and an engineered T-cell immunotherapy had better tumor responses and lived more than twice as long as those getting the BRAF inhibitor or immunotherapy alone. The findings provide strong support for testing the combination therapy in human clinical trials, which Jonsson Cancer Center researchers hope to launch within two years. By pairing these therapies in a one–two punch, researchers hope to maintain the high response rates associated with Zelboraf and combine them with the longer disease-free progression times seen with immunotherapy. The researchers also found that the BRAF inhibitor helped boost the power of the immunotherapy, creating a greater combination effect, said senior study author Dr. Antoni Ribas, a Jonsson Cancer Center scientist and UCLA professor of hematology–oncology.