"We investigated this combination because of research we and others have conducted into the molecular underpinnings of resistance to BRAF inhibitor therapy," says Keith Flaherty, MD, of the Massachustts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center, lead author of the NEJM report and principal investigator of the study. "We found that adding the MEK inhibitor trametinib to BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib clearly delays the emergence of resistance. In fact, the combination was at least twice as effective as BRAF inhibition alone."
In around half of patients with metastatic melanoma, tumor growth is driven by mutations that keep the BRAF protein – part of the MAPK cell growth pathway – constantly activated. In recent years, drugs that inhibit BRAF activity have rapidly halted and reversed tumor growth in about 90 percent of treated patients, but most patients' response is temporary, with tumor growth resuming in six or seven months. Investigations into how this resistance emerges have suggested that the MAPK pathway gets turned back on through activation of MEK, another protein further down the pathway. Based on promising results of animal studies, the current investigation was designed to test whether inhibiting both the BRAF and MEK proteins could delay treatment resistance.