GSK lands one-two punch in melanoma trial

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is rushing to start a late-stage trial of an experimental cocktail therapy against deadly skin cancer after a mid-stage study produced impressive results. And data from the small trial provide early evidence that GSK's two-drug combo could have an edge over Roche's ($RHHBY) approved melanoma drug Zelboraf.

In the 77-patient study, those who took the combo of GSK's BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib and MEK-targeting agent trametinib lived for 7.4 months without their melanoma getting worse. Also, there were data to support that the combo could reduce a patient's risk of developing a separate cancer known as squamous-cell carcinoma while taking BRAF blockers, which are linked to growth of the tumors, Bloomberg reported.

Roche's Zelboraf is the first BRAF inhibitor approved for treating melanoma. GSK aims to stymie mutated forms of BRAF with dabrafenib, and pack the added punch of the MET-blocking trametinib to close an escape route that melanomas travel to skirt attacks from BRAF inhibitors. And despite the advance in care that Zelboraf has provided, about a third of patients on the drug develop cutaneous squamous-cell carcinoma and most patients' tumors eventually build up resistance to the targeted drug, Reuters reported.   

"We know that cancers are smart," said ASCO president-elect Dr. Sandra Swain, as quoted by Reuters. "They find work-around pathways. We are seeing a very innovative approach that ostensibly blocks off some of this pathway."

The results of GSK's study were revealed Wednesday as part of an avalanche of cancer trial news tied to next month's ASCO meeting, where the London-based drug giant will present the study and feed a frenzy in the oncology world for targeted treatments that are tailored for cancer patients based on the specific molecular drivers of their tumors.

Not surprisingly, GSK's combo is already drawing comparisons to Zelboraf. And Bloomberg noted that, while the London-based giant's study showed that its two-drug combo provided longer profession-free survival than Roche's BRAF inhibitor in similar studies, Roche pointed out to the news service that such comparisons are premature.

- check out Bloomberg's article
- see Reuters' report