High response rates to a pair of combination therapies point to potentially new options for a group of metastatic melanoma patients who have been largely left out of recent treatment progress – those whose disease has spread to the brain.
A combination of two immunotherapies and another of two targeted therapies each significantly shrank metastatic brain tumors in at least half the patients participating in separate, multi-center clinical trials in an MD Anderson-led study.
“These encouraging results highlight the possibility of new treatment options, and new hope, for our patients with metastases to the brain, which are a leading cause of death from the disease,” said Hussein Tawbi, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology and leader of the immunotherapy trial.
Very often clinical trial protocols either exclude these patients or require them to first receive radiation treatment for their brain tumors before they can take experimental drugs, Tawbi said. About 70 percent of patients with stage IV, or metastatic, melanoma eventually develop brain metastases.
“The goal is to accelerate systemic treatments for these patients,” Tawbi said. “These trials show you can have response in the brain without radiation first.”
“In addition to showing that these combinations are safe and effective, these results demonstrate the overall feasibility of conducting clinical trials for melanoma patients with brain metastases, which ultimately will make more treatments available to these patients,” said Michael Davies, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology and co-leader of MD Anderson’s Melanoma Moon Shot.
In the past six years, a wave of new drugs – including both immunotherapies and targeted therapies – have extended the lives of patients with metastatic melanoma. However, concerns about whether the drugs could reach tumors in the brain, coupled with the historically poor prognosis of these patients, led drug developers to exclude patients with untreated brain metastases from all of the clinical trials that resulted in U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of these drugs.
Davies and Tawbi designed and led MD Anderson’s latest clinical trial, and are part of a team at MD Anderson intensely focused on improving treatment of melanoma brain metastases.
Read more about this study in MD Anderson’s Newsroom.