It is important to note that there have been no studies directly comparing the efficacy of the 3 approved BRAF/MEK inhibitor combinations, but the 3 different regimens have some differences in their toxicity profiles (Table 2). Of note, single-agent BRAF inhibition was associated with increased cutaneous toxicity, including secondary squamous cell carcinoma and keratoacanthoma,47 which was demonstrated to be driven by paradoxical activation of the MAPK pathway.48 The concerning cutaneous toxicities such as squamous cell carcinoma were substantially reduced by combination BRAF/MEK inhibitor therapy.47 Collectively, the higher efficacy along with manageable toxicity profile established combination BRAF/MEK inhibition as the preferred regimen for patients with BRAF-mutated metastatic melanoma who are being considered for molecularly targeted therapy. BRAF inhibitor monotherapy should only be used when there is a specific concern regarding the use of a MEK inhibitor in certain clinical circumstances.
Other driver mutations associated with metastatic melanoma such as NRAS-mutated tumors have proven more difficult to effectively treat with molecularly targeted therapy, with one study showing that the MEK inhibitor binimetinib resulted in a modest improvement in ORR and median PFS without OS benefit compared to dacarbazine.49 Several phase 2 trials involving metastatic melanoma harboring a c-Kit alteration have demonstrated some efficacy with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib. The largest phase 2 trial of 43 patients treated with imatinib resulted in a 53.5% disease control rate (23.3% partial response and 30.2% stable disease), with 9 of the 10 patients who achieved partial response having a mutation in either exon 11 or 13. Median PFS was 3.5 months and 1-year OS was 51.0%.50
Prior to initiation of systemic therapy, the patient’s melanoma is tested and is found to be positive for a BRAF V600K mutation. At his follow-up appointment, the patient continues to endorse generalized weakness, fatigue, issues with balance, and residual pulmonary symptoms after being treated for post-obstructive pneumonia. Given his current symptoms and extent of metastatic disease, immunotherapy is deferred and he is started on combination molecularly targeted therapy with dabrafenib and trametinib. He initially does well, with a partial response noted by resolution of symptoms and decreased size of his intracranial metastases and decreased size of the right lower lobe mass. Further follow-up of this patient is presented in the second article in this 2-part review of advanced melanoma.