Metastatic melanoma is known as “the cancer that gives cancer a bad name.” While melanoma makes up less than 2 percent of all skin cancer cases, it accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 73,870 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2015.
A Mayo Clinic clinical trial is combining two drugs to create a compound that specifically targets melanoma tumor cells. The drug Abraxane has unique packaging that insulates the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, providing the drug safe passage through the body until it gets to the intended target.
Metastatic melanoma tumor cells have distinct protein markers called VEG-F. Abraxane is combined with anti-VEG-F antibodies that recognize and bind to the VEG-F proteins. The packaging dissolves in the body, releasing the chemo drug and killing the cancer cells. The animation below shows how the new compound precisely and safely delivers chemotherapy to tumors.
This new technology has the potential to be used in other cancers, immune system disorders and organ transplantation, as well. “Much of this is the subject of ongoing research, as we’ve now built nanoparticles that target B cell malignancies [and] breast cancer, as well as more potent nanoparticles that carry not only paclitaxel as the chemotherapy payload but cisplatin as well,” says Mayo Clinic’s Svetomir N. Markovic, M.D., Ph.D., one of the world’s leading melanoma researchers. “By adding different chemo drugs into the nanoparticle we can make the chemo payload more effective for unique tumor targets.”
Dr. Markovic discovered this therapy’s potential three years ago while running a clinical trial. He noticed that a group of patients treated with two drugs given in a particular way had far better results than other patients enrolled. “The delivery method changed the way the drugs interacted,” he says. “We were able to get enough of the medication in the right place—the tumor—and not contaminate surrounding tissue.”
In this new trial’s first year, just a handful of patients are being enrolled. But if the drug is proven safe and effective, Dr. Markovic says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should give approval to expand to other patients and other drug combinations. Phase 1 is expected to be complete in the next 12–18 months, with the B cell malignancy targeting study to start in about 12 months.