New drug could boost brain cancer survival

Melanoma discovery at Westmead Institute for Cancer ResearchAustralian researchers have reported promising results from a new drug which could help prolong the life of people diagnosed with one of the most deadly forms of brain cancer.

Until now, patients with advanced melanoma that has spread to the brain have received a dire diagnosis. They survive only for an average of four months.

But cancer researchers at the University of Sydney, Melanoma Institute Australia, Sydney’s Westmead Hospital and the ACRF-funded Westmead Millennium Institute, have for the first time found a drug which shrinks brain tumours in these patients with advanced melanoma.

Dr Georgina Long of the University of Sydney said the drug, called Dabrafenib, works by targeting a gene mutation found in many melanoma cancers. The drug works by causing the cell to stop multiplying and in many cases it shrinks and disappears.

Dr Long, together with her colleague Professor Rick Kefford tested the drug on 46 melanoma patients, including 10 whose cancer had metastasised and spread to their brain, and 22 non-melanoma patients.

Brain tumours in nine of the 10 patients shrank in the first six weeks and completely disappeared in four patients.

“Brain metastases in melanoma are a major unsolved problem,” said Dr Long.

“Up to this point, melanoma has been notoriously resistant to drug therapy in general, and responses in highly lethal brain metastases are particularly uncommon.

“Providing these early data are supported in larger cohorts of patients and durable responses are confirmed, this activity in the brain may assist in addressing a large unmet need in patients with metastatic melanoma worldwide.”

 View the original University of Sydney press release here.