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14.11.19

Melanoma cancer treatment continuing to advance

Current treatments for the deadliest form of skin cancer melanoma could be improved by using approaches that terminate the ‘survival system’ of cancer cells according to a study published by Nature Communications today (Nov 14th).

Researchers from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, Babraham Institute and AstraZeneca have demonstrated an approach, used in parallel with current treatments, which terminates one of melanoma cells’ survival pathways and is effective at triggering tumour cell death and delaying treatment resistance.

They have discovered that melanoma cells rely on a protein called MCL1, which is important for the cells to survive when they are exposed to stand MEK and BRAF inhibitor drugs, such as trametinib or vemurafenib.

The researchers suggest this method may also help to tackle late stage cancers even after they have become resilient to present treatments. Then they studied an investigational compound from AstraZeneca, an MCL1 antagonist called AZD5991, and used it in the lab against models of melanoma.

They showed that by blocking MCL1, AZD5991 inactivated the backup survival system within melanoma cells. Combining AZD5991 with a treatment like vemurafenib had a ‘double whammy’ effect against cancer cells, eliminating them more effectively.

There are around 16,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year. Despite this the survival rates have doubled in the UK in the past 40 years, late-stage melanoma is aggressive and difficult to treat. Around 55% of people with latest stage melanoma survive their disease for 1 year or more compared to nearly 100% of those diagnosed at the earliest stage. These late-stage cancers evolve rapidly to resist treatment.

Professor Duncan Jodrell from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, who contributed to the research, said: “This work highlights the importance of performing collaborative research like this, as it could lead to new ways to tackle cancers, particularly those that are hard to treat. Our work also shows the value of scientists in basic science labs working closely with drug development specialists and industry scientists, which is fundamental if we want to find better treatments for people affected by cancer.”

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