New Drugs Provide Hope in Treating Drug-Resistant Skin Cancers

Experimental treatment effective in melanoma patients resistant to drugs that target BRAF.

Experimental treatment effective in melanoma patients resistant to drugs that target BRAF.

A new family of drugs designed to target cancer-causing proteins could potentially treat incurable skin cancers, a new study suggests.

The study, published online on December 11, 2014, in Cancer Cell, indicated that the new drugs, called panRAF inhibitors, could be effective in melanoma patients who have grown resistant to drugs that target BRAF, a protein that drives about half of all melanomas.

"Melanomas often respond initially to the current generation of treatments, but they inevitably acquire resistance to them, and there is a desperate need for more effective options,” said study co-lead Professor Caroline Springer in a press release.

Researchers found that the new drugs, provisionally named CCT196969 and CCT241161, stopped the growth of BRAF-driven melanomas, including those that had previously stopped responding to BRAF-targeting drugs.

The research team also found that the new drugs halted tumor growth in approximately 20% of cancers in which BRAF-targeting drugs were completely ineffective. The study found that these new drugs work because they target both BRAF and the growth pathways on which the resistant cancer cells rely.

The study established that a dose of 20mg per kg per day of either drug caused tumors to regress without significant side-effects.

The research team hopes to begin clinical trials to test the new drugs in patients as early as 2015.

"Our new inhibitors are the first in a new family of drugs that attack cancers without allowing them the get-out clause of drug resistance, by blocking multiple cancer proteins at once,” Springer said. “We are very hopeful that clinical trials from this series of new inhibitors will begin very soon -- and that they will ultimately become new first or second-line options for patients who, at the moment, exhaust all the available treatments and end up with fatal disease."