News Feature | December 17, 2014

Potential Treatment For Drug-Resistant Skin Cancer Discovered

By Suzanne Hodsden

The Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK have co-funded a study that has discovered potential skin cancer drugs which can multi-task and prove more potent than existing melanoma treatments.

Current skin cancer treatments that have been effective target a mutated BRAF protein, which is found to be responsible for a majority of melanomas. However, the cancers grow resistant to treatments within the year. 

Dr. Richard Seabrook, head of business development at the Wellcome Trust, explained, “Doctors already have front-line drugs to treat melanoma, but many patients gradually develop resistance to them and are left with few other treatment options.”

A 2010 study published in Cancer Cell suggested the possibility of targeting multiple pathways in melanomas that are resistant to BRAF inhibitors.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania remarked then that “effective strategies to over-come anti-cancer drug resistance are sorely needed and can only be developed by understanding the molecular mechanisms of resistance.”

Both the Institute of Cancer Research in London (ICRL) and the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute (CRMI) collaborated in developing the new drugs based on this strategy, currently called panRAF inhibitors CCT196969 and CCT241161.

Preclinical studies found that these drugs stopped the growth of cancer cells even in melanomas which had stopped responding to BRAF-inhibitors and in others which hadn’t responded to BRAF-inhibitors from the beginning.

Researchers explain that the drugs are more effective because they are capable of blocking more than one cancer protein at once.

Richard Marais, Director of the CRMI, said, “Our laboratory study showed that these new drugs deliver multiple blows to cancer by hitting several cell survival routes at once. It’s a step on from the drugs that are currently available which cannot multitask in this way.”

Caroline Springer, co-leader of the study from ICRL, concurred, saying, “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.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), more people have had skin cancer in the past three decades than all other forms of cancer combined, and SCF estimates that 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.

While melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, the SCF reports that it is, by far, the most fatal.

The study was published in Cancer Cell, and researchers hope to begin clinical testing in human patients beginning in 2015.