Experimental melanoma drug shows promise in phase-III trial

In collaboration with Adfero

Early results from a phase-III clinical trial of a new drug for advanced melanoma skin cancer indicate that it may help to improve survival.

Malignant melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and can be difficult to treat once it has spread.

RG7204 (also known as PLX4032) is a new, as-yet-unlicensed drug designed to target cancer cells with faults in a gene called BRAF. About half of all melanomas have these faults, which encourage the cancer cells to grow and spread. The drug blocks this process, helping to shrink the tumours.

A research team at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust have now completed a phase-III study comparing RG7204 with standard chemotherapy treatment. The early results show that patients treated with RG7204 survived for longer, and the new drug was better at slowing the growth of melanoma.

These results were so promising that all trial participants who were previously taking standard chemotherapy have now been offered treatment with the new pill instead.

However, the drug is not yet licensed and is currently only available to patients involved in clinical trials. Results from the trial will be presented at a major medical conference later this year.

Lead researcher Dr James Larkin, from the Royal Marsden, described the results as "an incredibly exciting breakthrough".

He said: "Malignant melanoma is a very difficult disease to treat and with a growing incidence in younger people the results of this phase-III trial are very encouraging."

Professor Richard Marais, whose work at The Institute of Cancer Research demonstrated the importance of BRAF in melanoma, added: "These results represent a paradigm shift in melanoma treatment and will change how we approach treatment of this disease."

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, said: "There are very few options for patients with advanced melanoma, so these results are really encouraging. The drug is not yet licensed and unavailable to patients not on a clinical trial, but we hope that these results will change this situation very rapidly."