Panel of melanoma mutations opens door to new treatment possibilities

November 15, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- Researchers have developed a new genetic screening tool that will aid in the investigation of possible treatments for patients with melanoma and the unique genetic mutations that may accompany the disease, according to data presented at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference: Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics, held Nov. 12-16, 2011.

Heinz-Herbert Fiebig, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medical oncology at the University of Freiburg in Germany, presented data from 25 patient-derived melanoma models for which he and his colleagues studied relevant genetic mutations and the effect of new targeted and cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents.

In this study, Fiebig, who is also the president and CEO of Oncotest GmbH Institute for Experimental Oncology, and colleagues collected melanoma samples from 80 patients. They were able to grow 38 of them in nude mice from which 25 permanent models were established. Eight different genetic mutations were determined in these models.

"The most prominent mutations were found in the BRAF oncogene; namely, 16 out of 25 tumors were positive for the mutation," said Fiebig.

About 25 percent of melanoma cases had a mutated NRAS gene. PI3Kalpha mutations were rare, and the screening found no mutations of the KRAS gene, which is a common genetic mutation in other forms of cancer.

The researchers then exposed the melanomas bearing specific mutations in vitro in the clonogenic assay to a variety of cancer treatments including traditional cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin, paclitaxel or vincristine, and modern chemotherapeutic drugs that target specific mutations, such as sorafenib and vemurafenib. They hoped to determine which, if any, of these drugs had an effect on the cancer cells and whether that effect was related to the presence or lack of a mutation.

The tests indicated that vemurafenib -- or PLX-4720 -- was most effective in melanoma tumor samples with the V600E mutation in the BRAF gene. This finding echoes those of recent clinical studies in humans. In addition, vincristine was found to only be effective in tumor samples that did not have a mutation in the BRAF gene. "Up until now, we were not able to detect other correlations between chemosensitivity against cytotoxic or targeted agents and other mutations," said Fiebig.

In the melanoma models, vemurafenib was 100 times more active in V600E-mutated melanomas compared with those melanomas with no mutations, Fiebig said. However, in the clinic, the majority of patients developed resistance within one year.

"Our melanoma models will allow researchers to investigate and overcome the possible underlying resistance mechanisms -- for example, by combining vemurafenib with other target-specific agents," Fiebig said. "In addition, other new targeted drugs are being studied in a systematic way."
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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 33,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowships and career development awards to young investigators, and it also funds cutting-edge research projects conducted by senior researchers. The AACR has numerous fruitful collaborations with organizations and foundations in the U.S. and abroad, and functions as the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports groundbreaking research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated time frame. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care, and Educational Workshops are held for the training of young cancer investigators. The AACR publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Prevention Research. In 2010, AACR journals received 20 percent of the total number of citations given to oncology journals. The AACR also publishes Cancer Today, a magazine for cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers, which provides practical knowledge and new hope for cancer survivors. A major goal of the AACR is to educate the general public and policymakers about the value of cancer research in improving public health, the vital importance of increases in sustained funding for cancer research and biomedical science, and the need for national policies that foster innovation and the acceleration of progress against the 200 diseases we call cancer.

American Association for Cancer Research

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