According to a latest research study, patients with advanced skin cancer can now be treated more effectively if they are administered a well-known drug, which is normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. This drug should be dispensed in combination with conventional drug therapy used to treat skin cancer. This study was conducted on mice by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Melanoma tumor growth stopped almost completely in mice with advanced skin cancer when they were treated with both conventional medications and arthritis drug. Melanoma tumor occurs only in five percent of patients with skin cancer; however, it is the deadliest form of tumor with high mortality rate. If melanoma growth is diagnosed at an early stage, then it can be completely treated with this combinatorial therapy. However, it is difficult to treat melanoma in metastasis stage.
In recent times, novel treatments have targeted genetic mutations that cause metastatic melanoma in patients. However, metastatic melanoma becomes resistant to drugs very quickly, so researchers are focusing on developing a combination of treatments that can effectively destroy the proliferation of metastatic melanoma. Dr Grant Wheeler was the lead researcher at the School of Biological Sciences, UEA. According to Dr. Wheeler, metastatic melanoma can be attacked from several angles, if researchers provide combinatorial therapies to patients with skin cancer. Melanoma tumors would then find it difficult to develop drug resistance. In their research study, they could further establish the benefits of combinatorial therapies: since they administered arthritis drug along with conventional therapy to mice with skin cancer, the benefits of both therapies were enhanced; therefore, the effects of combinatorial therapies were more than the sum total of all benefits.
In this research study, Dr Wheeler worked with colleagues at the School of Pharmacy in UEA. This study was conducted in collaboration with researchers at the Norwich Medical School. Leflunomide is an immunosuppressive drug that is normally prescribed to patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They investigated how effective was Lelunomide drug in treating skin cancer patients, which were also treated with skin cancer therapy simultaneously.
In a previous study, these researchers had found that Leflunomide was effective when used with drugs that target a certain genetic mutation of melanoma tumor, namely, BRAFV600E. In current research study, they tested the efficacy of leflunomide in combination with seflumetinib, which is a conventional drug used to treat melanoma. They found that this combination of drugs was more effective in treating melanoma. Melanoma depends on a protein called MEK for its survival. The activity of MEK protein is targeted by the drug Selumetinib. Many drugs act as inhibitor of MEK activity. These drugs are used along with BRAF inhibitors to tackle resistance. In current study conducted by Dr Wheeler, it was found that this combination of drugs was more effective when leflunomide was also included in it.
These researchers tested leflunomide on melanoma cells in the laboratory. They found that leflunomide was effective in combating melanoma growth, irrespective of its genetic mutation. This was a path-breaking discovery as leflunomide could now be used to treat all kinds of melanomas, and not just the tumors caused by BRAF mutation. The team of researchers investigated the activity of leflunomide on melanoma cells. They found that leflunomide could arrest of growth of melanoma cells when they were in their early stage of development. Then, leflunomide would initiate controlled cell death, known as apoptosis. It would force melanoma cells to kill themselves.
This group of scientists then tested the efficacy of combining leflunomide with selumetinib. They found that this combination of drugs was more effective in killing melanoma cells. This finding was confirmed by administering leflunomide and selumetinib to mice with melanoma tumors. Over a period of 12 days, this combination of drugs was administered to mice with melanoma tumors. It was found that the combinatorial therapy worked wonders in completing stopping the growth of melanoma tumors. The efficacy of combinatorial therapy was far superior to those of individual drugs. However, further clinical trials need to be carried out to ascertain if melanoma tumors show drug resistance to this combinatorial treatment.
According to Dr. Wheeler, death rate is quite high in patients with melanoma tumors because these tumors usually develop resistance to drugs. Therefore, most patients respond poorly to melanoma treatments. To tackle this problem, doctors are now propagating immunotherapeutic treatments to boost defence mechanisms within the human body. However, researchers are still hopeful that novel combinatorial therapies would work wonders in association with immunotherapy, which is now being provided to most patients with melanoma tumors. According to Dr. Wheeler, the combination of leflunomide and selumetinib can destroy melanoma tumors effectively.