New drug kills metastatic melanoma

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 11:33 AM EDT
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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.

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.

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.

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