Gleevec® May Be Effective for Some Patients with Metastatic Melanoma

The targeted agent Gleevec® (imatinib) may be a promising therapy for some patients with metastatic melanoma. These results were recently presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Metastatic melanoma refers to melanoma that has spread from its site of origin to distant sites in the body. Long-term survival for metastatic melanoma with standard therapies remains suboptimal, with only a small percentage of patients surviving to five years.

Researchers continue to evaluate novel ways to treat melanoma. In particular, agents are that stimulate the immune system to help fight cancer are under evaluation, as well as agents that are individualized towards each patient’s cancer cells.

Some patients with melanoma have a type of disease referred to as KIT-positive, which means there is an abnormality in the KIT protein due to a mutation in the KIT gene. The KIT protein is found on the surface of cells and is involved in cellular growth. When the KIT protein is mutated, or abnormal, uncontrolled cellular growth of cancer cells can occur. Gleevec is targeted against the KIT protein, blocking growth signals to cancer cells. Gleevec has already demonstrated significant anticancer activity and is approved for therapy for gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).

Researchers from the Dana-Farber Institute recently began enrolling patients in a small clinical trial evaluating Gleevec in the treatment of metastatic melanoma among patients with an abnormality with the KIT protein. Currently, there are results from only one patient in this trial. This patient was a 79-year-old woman with several areas of cancer in the abdomen.

  • Following four weeks of therapy with Gleevec, a substantial regression of sites of cancer was achieved.
  • Following nine months of therapy, the results remained stable.
  • Gleevec also tends to be very well-tolerated.
  • The patient remains on Gleevec, which she takes daily in oral form.

Although these results only include one patient, they demonstrated impressive outcomes for a disease that is virtually incurable at present. Results including more patients from the study are eagerly awaited.

Reference: Hodi F, et al. Major response to imatinib mesylate in KIT-mutated melanoma. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008; 2046-2051.

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