Almost 13,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma and around 2,000 people die every year from the disease. It’s one of the most common cancers to affect 15-34 year olds although it is still mostly found in older patients. Melanoma is slightly more common in females than in males. A team of scientists from Cancer Research UK at institutes in London and Manchester have been running laboratory tests on two compounds which have been shown to have encouraging results in treating melanoma. Although promising, these laboratory trials are only the first step in drug discovery and it will be some time before any conclusive evidence is available.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer as it spreads quickly and can soon affect lymph nodes and other organs if not treated quickly. 76,000 cases of melanoma were reported with around 9,000 deaths in the U.S. and more than 100,000 cases with 22,000 deaths in Europe were reported. It is often diagnosed when the shape or size of an existing mole is noticed to have changed or new moles appear. It is important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of these changes. Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body but it is most commonly found on the back, arms and legs. Sunburn is often seen as a contributing factor and it can indeed lead to melanoma.
The two compounds that have been undergoing laboratory testing are a type of compound that are known as signal inhibitors. These are designed to stop the cancer cells sending messages to each other to co-ordinate the cancers growth. The two compounds which are together known as panRAF inhibitors work slightly differently to previous drugs and could potentially be used in patients with advanced melanoma that has become resistant to previous treatments. Although initial results on lab mice have been promising, use on human patients may prove the drug to be ineffective or even dangerous.
The new compounds were discovered as researchers tried to find new ways of fighting resistant forms of melanoma. The two compounds were found in a group of different compounds that were being tested as part of a drug discovery program. The two compounds then underwent more thorough testing and analysis to get them to the point where the researchers could begin testing on mice. Testing on the mice was promising as the cancer cells were successfully destroyed and the mice didn’t appear to have suffered any side effects.
Targeting Multiple Cancer Proteins
Up to half of melanoma cases diagnosed are those which have a specific mutation in the BRAF gene and the related MEK protein. Up until now, drugs have been used to stop this mutation in one specific gene or another but not multiple genes at once. It has been found that drugs that are used to fight these cases are initially effective but the cancer would often return after a period of time when it started to become resistant to the drugs. Now research has turned towards to the goal of combining a BRAF inhibitor with a MEK protein inhibitor in the hope that this will give longer lasting results. Targeting multiple cancer proteins at once will stop the cancer becoming resistant to the drug. It was also found that the panRAF inhibitors stopped growth in tumours that previous BRAF targeted drugs had failed to have any effect on and this accounts for a further 20% of melanoma cases.
Trialling the New Drug
Now that the drug has been given the go ahead for clinical trials the first step in this will be a small scale trail that focuses on getting the dosage right and watching for any safety concerns such as side effects. Although not specifically looking for effectiveness it is hoped that this initial trial will show some signs of it. If the first round of trials are successful then it will be tested on a much larger scale and the drug’s effectiveness will be the main focus. If it is eventually found to be an effective drug in the treatment of malignant melanoma it is likely to be used as a first line treatment for patients and also a second line treatment in patients with resistant form of the disease.
Although initially results have been promising, the fact that the compounds have yet to have been trialled in human patients means that there are potentially still many years of clinical trials left to establish whether or not it is effective in human patients and there are no guarantees that an effective drug will come from all the testing.
This post is written by Jane Freeman, a blogger for Cedars Dermatology.