Micrograph of malignant melanoma, skin cancer. Credit: Nephron

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine presents promising results for a new drug among patients with advanced melanoma (skin cancer).

The drug called PLX4032 (Zelboraf) was tested on patients with terminal metastatic melanoma, who had cancer spread to other organs and very dire prognosis.

The newly developed drug was most successful among those patients who had a particular gene mutation.

The drug that is taken orally gave strikingly positive results. It targets a gene known as the BRAF, found in 40 to 60 percent of all melanomas.

When the BRAF gene is activated it promotes uncontrolled cellular growth. Zelboraf is an inhibitor of this growth. It can slow it down and even halt it.

Among 32 metastatic melanoma patients with this BRAF gene mutation, the Zelboraf drug “induced complete or partial tumor regression in 81 percent of patients,” according to the researchers, who were led by Keith T. Flaherty, MD.

It is not yet clear whether treatment with Zelboraf will lead to improved survival rates, but the authors are currently investigating this in a larger trial.

Improved Survival with Vemurafenib in Melanoma with BRAF V600E Mutation