Scientists from Spain and Belgium have developed a new tactic to prevent the recurrence of basal cell skin cancer, the most frequent type of tumor.
This type of cancer accounts for 80% of skin tumors. Spain, one of the European countries with the highest incidence of these tumors related to solar radiation, registers about 54,000 cases a year, according to the Spanish Association of Dermatology. Around 2% of all of them are not operable. Since 2012 there is a drug that eliminates injuries, but they reappear at 6 months in 25% of patients.
In a study published today in Nature, Adriana Sánchez-Danés, researcher at the Free University of Brussels, and colleagues at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona, reveal the mechanism of action of the drug in question, Vismodegib, with the commercial name Erivedge. "Unlike other cancer treatments, which attack rapidly dividing cells, this drug accelerates the maturation of tumor cells and promotes their elimination by the natural flaking of the skin," explains the Girona-San Sebastián biotechnologist. "In this study we have discovered a population of cells that remain dormant during treatment and are those that cause the reappearance of the disease," he says.
Researchers have shown in experiments with mice that using a second experimental drug that inhibits the WNT signaling pathway in combination with normal treatment eliminates the lesions and prevents relapse. The work has also shown in cellular samples of patients that these also present the latent cells and that the WNT signaling pathway is activated in them, so there is a possibility that the same treatment will work in patients. Another team from the US company Genentech, which manufactures Vismodegib, publishes similar results in another study in the same journal.
"In cases where surgery is not possible and the drug is used, the cancer usually reappears after six months and resistance to treatment is generated," explains Eva Muñoz-Couselo, a researcher at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital and co-author of the study. I study together with his colleague Josep Tabernero. "For melanoma, which is the least frequent but also the most lethal cutaneous tumor, combined inhibitor treatments have been developed. Our objective with this study is to achieve a similar effect with a sequence of specific drugs. Now the next step is to launch a clinical trial in patients, "he says. Sánchez-Danés points out that the same combination could also work in other tumors that have the same genetic and molecular characteristics, especially medulloblastoma, a brain tumor that affects mostly children.
"It is a study of tremendous interest because of its translational approach, that is, it can quickly bring the results of basic research to clinical application," says Luis de la Cruz, spokesman for the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology and head of oncology at the Virgen Macarena Hospital of Seville. "It is possible that the double inhibition described in the work can control the disease in patients who need this treatment," he says.