Multiplying therapies and reducing toxicity in metastatic melanoma

Paul R. Massey, Vinay Prasad, William D. Figg*, Tito Fojo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Prior to 2011, only 2 systemic treatments were approved for the treatment of melanoma and these had limited efficacy. In the past 4 years, 6 novel agents have received FDA approval. Herein, we will focus on 4 recently published NEJM papers reporting the results of clinical trials, comprising 4 agents targeting the MAPK pathway: the BRAF inhibitors vemurafenib and dabrafenib, and the MEK inhibitors trametinib and cobimetenib. These have been developed in parallel with a class of immunologic mediators often referred to as “immune checkpoint inhibitors.” These recent studies represent a marked acceleration of progress in the treatment of metastatic melanoma. While it was hoped that combining BRAF and MEK inhibitors would significantly mitigate drug resistance, such combinations have yielded only modestly better results than monotherapy. However, these combinations were successful in reducing the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas and keratocanthomas. Therefore, combination therapies are clearly warranted. Thus far there are only limited data addressing the value of combinations of immunotherapeutic agents: a phase 1 trial of concurrent nivolumab plus ipilimumab suggested enhanced activity that may not depend on BRAF mutation status. Despite the attention and publicity given to the progress achieved in the therapy of melanoma, the majority of patients with metastatic disease still have a poor prognosis. Even novel combination regiments of BRAF and MEK inhibitors achieve complete response in only 13% of patients and a median PFS of 11.4 months in all patients. Better therapies remain desperately needed, especially for the 30–40% of patients with wild-type BRAF, for whom BRAF/MAPK inhibition offers no benefit. In the latter benefit is expected from emerging immunotherapies either singly or in combinations. The extent to which immunotherapies will add to regimens targeting BRAF remains to be determined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1014-1018
Number of pages5
JournalCancer Biology and Therapy
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • BRAF
  • Cobimetenib
  • Dabrafenib
  • ERK-signaling
  • MAPK pathway
  • MEK
  • Melanoma
  • PD-1
  • Trametinib
  • Vemurafenib


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