The Melanoma International Foundation hit the road recently for two important melanoma meetings in Boston. The first was the 2016 Global Coalition for Melanoma Patient Advocacy. The Melanoma Research Foundation did the lion’s share of work to get this organized and many pharmaceutical companies funded it. We worked hard over the weekend to make strides in access, clinical trials, and awareness for melanoma.
Just a side note: When all the world seems divided these days, melanoma organizations from the United States sat side by side to collaborate on behalf of melanoma patients. That collaboration extended to many nations across the world.
The Society for Melanoma Research meeting topped off the trip. After what seems like a revolution in melanoma treatment, we’ve had what feels like a lull. Not too much was going on at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), but we did get a few glimmers of promising drugs. A lot of the melanoma doctor/researcher “STARS” were there: Keith Flaherty from Mass General, Toni Ribas from UCLA, and internationally, Georgina Long and Caroline Robert. I met with some of our scientific board members and they had nothing terribly exciting to report. Many were still as frustrated by our choices for stage III melanoma as I am.
Combinations of therapies seem to be our future now that we have the truly effective drug, PD1, with a 40% response rate. Atezolizumab was featured (it is a PDL drug) and had good efficacy in a double combo with cobimetinib (a mek drug) and also in a triple play with cobimetinib and vemurafenib (braf). Sadly, these are for only BRAF positive patients. We will learn more as these trials mature. We are fortunate that the immunotherapies work best in melanoma!
Again, for the BRAF positive comes a new braf/mek combination which promises better efficacy and less side effects than the others approved by the FDA. The Columbus trial in phase III combined Encorafenib (a new BRAf drug) and Binimetinib versus vemurafenib or encorafenib. You may remember that Binimetinib was the Novartis drug sold to Array for NRAS positive melanoma trials. Again, it will take time for this to develop and get approval. According to Keith Flaherty, MIF Scientific Advisory board: “The results presented today from the COLUMBUS trial, including estimated progression free survival, objective response rate, dose intensity and tolerability of the combination, provide a strong and consistent theme across multiple endpoints, underscoring the promise of binimetinib plus encorafenib as a potential, attractive treatment option for patients diagnosed with BRAF-mutant melanoma.” Keith is the Director of the Termeer Center for Targeted Therapy, Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.
There was some data presented that showed that high HDL levels would hinder good response to the immunotherapies, but response for melanoma patients and high HDL levels still resulted.
So, we must carry on, teaching the world about melanoma, how to prevent it, catch it early, and treat it properly. We won’t achieve success unless we work together!