Metastatic Melanoma: Valium-Like Drug Kills


CINCINNATI, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—Doctors can often detect and treat early-stage melanoma, but when it advances, it is much tougher to fight and is fatal nearly half the time. Now a team of scientists at the University of Cincinnati is developing a therapy that— when taken together— can improve existing melanoma treatments. Metastatic melanoma.

Years of sun exposure or other UV light is a risk factor for melanoma, which can be deadly if not caught early.

“Melanoma eventually tends to go to the brain,” described Soma Sengupta, MD, PhD, a neuro-oncologist  at the University of Cincinnati, “When it goes to the brain, it’s extremely challenging to treat,” explained Daniel Pomeranz Krummel, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati.

(Read Full Interview)

Soma Sengupta and Daniel Pomeranz Krummel are partners in the lab and in life. This husband-wife duo and their colleagues study metastatic melanoma.  Right now, patients with advanced cancer do have some options, but …

“The ways that it is being treated with both radiation and immunotherapy, unfortunately, are not effective for all patients,” shared Krummel.

What happens when researchers add a drug to the treatment mix? Dr. Sengupta studied a new class of sedative, similar to valium or Xanax that improves immunotherapy and radiation.

“It’s called QHII066,” Dr. Sengupta stated.

“What she discovered was that these particular class of drugs that are members of benzodiazepines were capable of killing cancer cells,” Krummel illustrated.

“It’s not as addictive as the parent compound, so people can’t really get a buzz from it,” assured Dr. Sengupta.

The team tested the drug in mice and found, in some cases, the cancer disappeared completely. They say it could be a year or more before the FDA will consider the drug for human testing.

Dr. Sengupta and Daniel Pomeranz Krummel formed a start-up company called AMLAL Pharmaceutical Incorporated to apply for a small business technology transfer. That move could bring the drug into the clinical setting faster. The company name is a combination of the names of the couple’s two children— Amita and Maya … And Dr. Sengupta’s father, Lal, who recently died of pulmonary fibrosis.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4893

BACKGROUND: When melanoma spreads, or metastasizes, the disease is known as metastatic melanoma. This melanoma may typically occur during stage III or IV. Common areas include the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones and brain. Melanoma tumors that have metastasized to other parts of the body are still considered melanoma, for example, metastatic melanoma of the lung or melanoma with lung metastases. Patients with metastatic melanoma may experience various symptoms depending on where in the body the cancer has spread. Some of these include fatigue, swollen or painful lymph nodes, weight loss, loss of appetite, trouble breathing or a cough that doesn’t go away, bone pain, headaches, seizures, and swelling of the liver.


MELANOMA STAGES: Doctors describe the extent of cancer in your body as cancer staging. Staging is defined by the characteristics of the original melanoma tumor and if/how far it has spread in your body. There are five melanoma stages: 0 through IV. Some stages have subgroups where the letters A through D are used to show those subgroups. The higher the number and letter, the more extensive the disease. In Stage 0, the malignant tumor is still confined to the upper layer of skin. The cancer cells are only in the outer layer of the skin and have not grown any deeper. In Stage I, the melanoma is up to 2mm thick and may or may not have ulceration. Stage II melanoma is defined by tumor thickness and ulceration. There are cancer cells in both the epidermis and dermis, but still no evidence the cancer has spread. In Stage III melanoma, the cancer has spread to one or more regional lymph nodes or has developed a deposit of melanoma in the skin or dermis along the lymphatics. In Stage IV, the cancer has spread beyond the original tumor site and regional lymph nodes to more distant areas of the body.


NEW FDA-APPROVED IMMUNOTHERAPIES: Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that can help boost the immune system’s response against cancer. There are three main groups of immunotherapies used to treat melanoma. Checkpoint inhibitors are drugs that may help your immune system recognize and kill melanoma skin cancer cells. The FDA has approved three types of checkpoint inhibitors: ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, and nivolumab. Treatment with cytokines may help boost your immune system and strengthen its response against cancer. The FDA has approved three types of cytokines: interferon alfa-2b, pegylated interferon alfa-2b, and interleukin-2. Oncolytic virus therapy are viruses that have been modified to infect and kill cancer cells. They may also trigger your immune system to attack cancer cells in your body. Talimogene laherparepvec (Imlygic) is an oncolytic virus that’s been approved to treat melanoma.





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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Soma Sengupta, MD, Neuro-oncologist

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