Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that give skin its tan or brown color. Melanoma is much less common than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but it is far more dangerous. Early-stage melanomas can often be treated effectively with surgery alone, but more advanced cancers often require other treatments. VCU Massey Cancer Center is currently conducting clinical trials evaluating the latest therapies for melanoma.
Andrew Poklepovic, M.D., is leading two clinical trials for melanoma at Massey. He says: “After decades where there was very little advancement in the treatment of melanoma, the last several years have seen major advances in the treatment of this terrible disease. Therapies that have been proven to prolong survival in advanced stages of melanoma are now being explored in stage III and recurrent melanoma, and new strategies are being tested for stage IV cancers.”
One of his trials is an international phase III clinical study that compares the effects of two melanoma drugs. The trial studies the effects of investigational drug ipilimumab, a biological agent that has been shown to have anti-tumor activity in advanced (stage IV) melanoma, versus FDA-approved drug interferon alpha-2b, which has been shown to reduce the risk of melanoma returning in a portion of patients. Two-thirds of patients that participate in this trial will receive ipilimumab and the other third will receive interferon alfa-2b to see which one is more effective at stopping or delaying cancer from returning. Throughout their treatment, patients will also complete “Quality of Life” (QOL) questionnaires to track how they are feeling physically and emotionally. “This is a very important trial, and the outcome from it may change the way we treat melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes or recurred,” says Poklepovic.
The other clinical trial is a phase II study that tests a combination therapy of the experimental drugs AZD6244 hydrogen sulfate and MK-2206 on patients who have a genetic mutation called B-Raf gene (BRAF V600E), which causes their melanoma to be untreatable by surgery. AZD6244 hydrogen sulfate blocks a protein called MEK, and MK-2206 has been found to block the protein Akt. Researchers are hoping to find that blocking both MEK and Akt might better treat melanoma in patients who have the BRAF V600E mutation. “Current targeted treatments for BRAF mutations work very well, but unfortunately for a disappointingly short period of time. This trial is designed to target the resistance mechanisms of the melanoma cells, by targeting proteins that become activated as a part of melanoma resistance to BRAF targeted therapy, ” says Poklepovic.
“Clinical trials enable researchers to develop new and better ways of treating cancer, and we hope these two trials at Massey will find more effective therapies for melanoma,” he says.
Massey is currently conducting more than 150 trials on a variety of cancers. For more information and to view a complete list of all active clinical trials, visit http://www.massey.vcu.edu/clinical-trials.html.