It is hard to imagine how a simple spot on your skin could wreak such havoc if it turns out to be melanoma and spreads throughout the rest of your body. A recent series in the New York Times called “Target Cancer” clearly illustrates how this can happen. The development of a new drug called PLX4032 that is in clinical trials for skin melanoma is presented. We are given the chance to follow Dr. Keith Flaherty as he oversees the use of the drug and the lives of the patients involved in the study.
PLX4032 is a unique cancer drug. Unlike other cancer medications that affect the body’s entire immune system, PLX4032 targets a specific genetic gene called B-RAF that mutates and is responsible for certain types of skin melanoma. In 2002, British researchers found that a defective gene called B-RAF was present in more than half of those diagnosed with skin melanoma. It was then that Dr. Flaherty realized that if there was a targeted drug that blocked a protein produced by the defective gene then enormous strides could be made for patients whose cancer was caused by this defect.
Dr. Flaherty, who is a devoted, conscientious oncologist, believes that a new reformulated version of the drug is a patient’s best hope at halting the spread of this insidious disease. The first clinical trial to target the B-RAF gene failed to help patients; they simply could not absorb enough of the drug. He works tirelessly at the University of Philadelphia Melanoma Clinic along with a team of trial nurses and other oncologists.
The series chronicles melanoma patients who have reached the end of their chance for life. There is the 89 year old grandfather, the young woman who was diagnosed at 26, the family man from south Jersey and many others who are just like you and me. I can’t help but become emotional as I read how much they and their families have been affected by lives full of struggling with cancer and how hard it must be to know that they are receiving a drug that may be their last chance at survival. Admittedly, a drug with no past record, no known best dose to administer might just shorten what is left of their life if their body rejects it.