One, Two! Better Results with Combined Therapy

Author: Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

Combination therapy with the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib and immunotherapy appears to produce improved results in a mouse model.

Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have been able to significantly increase tumor responses and survival in melanoma using a mouse model. How? They combined the recently approved BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib (Zelboraf) with an engineered T-cell immunotherapy. Animals treated with the combination lived more than twice as long as those getting the BRAF inhibitor or immunotherapy alone. In this 2-year study, published in the August 15, 2012, edition of Cancer Research, researchers also found that the combined effect of the 2 agents was greater than either alone.
 
The specific immunotherapy technique used in the study is called adoptive T-cell transfer (ACT). In it, researchers genetically engineer lymphocytes in the laboratory to express a receptor that recognizes melanoma cells. Once they are injected into the body, they stimulate millions of immune cells to attack the cancer.
 
Currently, approximately half of human melanoma patients respond to vemurafenib, but the response is generally short-lived. On the other hand, a small number of tumors respond to immunotherapy with durable results. Researchers hope combining this targeted therapy with a systemic immune response will produce the high response rates associated with vemurafenib and the more durable response sometimes associated with immunotherapy.
 
Approximately 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma each year, and 8,000 people die of the disease. Jonsson Cancer Center plans to launch human clinical trials of the combination therapy within the next 2 years.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.