Drugs typically used to treat melanoma can offer significant benefits to some lung cancer patients, according to a new academic clinical trial.
The study, which was reported at the European Lung Cancer Conference in Geneva, included lung cancer patients with tumours carrying specific mutations in the BRAF gene.
These mutations are commonly seen in patients with melanoma, but are also found in approximately two per cent of lung adenocarcinomas, explained Lucerne Cantonal Hospital medical oncologist Dr Oliver Gautschi.
Scientists have already developed several inhibitors of the B-Raf protein - such as vemurafenib and dabrafenib - for use in melanoma patients, but no approved drug for BRAF-mutant lung cancer currently exists.
Limited experience exists of treating lung cancer with B-Raf inhibitors, so the researchers aimed to find out how many patients across Europe have used these inhibitors outside of a clinical trial, and what their outcomes were.
During the study, information was gathered on 35 lung cancer patients carrying BRAF mutations who were given B-Raf inhibitors between 2012 and 2014.
The majority of those patients were given vemurafenib, some dabrafenib and one sorafenib. The overall response rate stood at 53 per cent, while progression-free survival time in the group was five months.
Researchers were pleased that most of the patients were pretreated and ineligible for clinical trials, describing the results as "encouraging" - although they acknowledged that the small sample size and retrospective analysis means the results should be treated with some caution.
Despite this, Dr Gautschi said the study highlights the value of clinicians testing patients for so-called rare driver mutations in lung cancer, as targeted therapy could deliver substantial benefits for individual patients.
Dr David Planchard, pulmonary oncologist at Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France, added: "This trial is important because due to the low frequency of this mutation in non-small cell lung cancer we will have few trials on this population.
"The more data we have, the better we understand how important it is to test for the mutation, especially in adenocarcinomas, and to expose mutation-positive patients to a specific B-Raf inhibitor."
Written by Mathew Horton
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