Advanced Melanoma may Soon Meet its Match

Stage IV melanoma responds to sunitinib in Phase II trial

(RxWiki News) Melanoma, or the cancerous transformation of a mole, can be treated when caught early. Unfortunately, not all melanomas are visible, and those appearing underneath a fingernail or inside the mouth may escape notice until it's too late.

In rare forms of melanoma, a genetic mutation in a protein known as KIT signifies an especially aggressive cancer, but this gene can be targeted for specific pharmaceutical treatment.

In a phase II clinical trial, Sutent (sunitinib) showed remarkable power in stopping further cancer growth due to targeting the KIT gene.

"Ask your oncologist about Sutent."

A research group from California Pacific Medical Center's Center for Melanoma Research and Treatment tested Sutent in 10 patients with the most advanced form of skin cancer, stage IV melanoma.

After receiving the drug, the cancer went into remission in three of the patients, with total reversal and disappearance of liver metastases in one case for a full 15 months.

“This form of skin cancer is particularly difficult to treat because it is resistant to chemotherapy, one of the standard therapies for most forms of cancer,” says David Minor, M.D., co-author of the article.

“Studies show that single-agent chemotherapy only produces a response rate of between 5 to 20 percent in patients with this form of cancer. So having one that produces a response of more than 50 percent is a big advance," Dr. Minor said.

The other co-author Mohammed Kashani-Sabet, M.D. was guardedly optimistic, saying “We need to be cautious because of the small number of patients involved in this trial. However, these results are encouraging because they are far better than we would expect to see with chemotherapy for this form of melanoma, and for this stage of the disease,” Dr. Kashani-Sabet said.

Pfizer estimates the cost for a six-week course Sutent to be $4,000. Sutent's side effects are most commonly rash, fatigue and lowered immune system function.

In the current stage of clinical testing, the drug's effect is compared to that of a placebo, or no treatment at all. Further trials are planned.

Research was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Financial disclosures were not made publicly available.

Review Date: 
March 12, 2012