Graduate Student at East Lansing’s MSU Finds Drug Combination that may Prevent Melanoma from Becoming Treatment Resistant

Sean Misek, a physiology graduate student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has found that new drug combinations may prevent melanoma from becoming resistant to treatment. Melanoma accounts for about 1 percent of skin cancer cases but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
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A graduate student at MSU has found a drug combination that prevents melanoma from becoming drug resistant. // Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Sean Misek, a physiology graduate student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has found that new drug combinations may prevent melanoma from becoming resistant to treatment. Melanoma accounts for about 1 percent of skin cancer cases but causes the majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Richard Neubig, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Human Medicine, estimated the findings could help about half of melanoma patients whose cancer becomes drug resistant.

More than half of melanoma patients have cancer-causing mutations in what is known as the BRAF gene. Among those patients, the cancer initially responds well to treatment with vemurafenib, a common cancer drug and drug targeting BRAF, but quickly develops resistance, allowing the melanoma to spread.

Misek found that among the resistant melanomas, about half show activation of a signaling pathway involving the protein Rho. Results also showed that combining vemurafenib with other compounds that interfere with Rho signaling, can re-sensitize the cancer cells to treatment.

The study identified one clinically approved drug and three research compounds that can enhance vemurafenib responses in resistant melanomas. One of the research compounds is being developed by FibrosIX Inc., an MSU spinoff company.

“It feels good to make a contribution,” says Misek. “We look forward to seeing these results applied to help patients in the future.”

The study was published in Oncogene, one of the world’s leading cancer journals. The study was supported by a grant from the MSU College of Human Medicine Gran Fondo, a mass participation bike ride held each June to raise money for skin cancer research.

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