Last year there were news reports of a group of Auburn University alumni who had all developed ocular melanoma. (See blog entry Folks with Ocular Melanoma Cluster on Social Media.) Despite its name, it is not similar to skin melanoma since it is not necessarily caused by exposure to the sun. It is a rare form of cancer which occurs at the rate of 1 in every 2,500 people. This type of cancer is more commonly found in Caucasians between the ages of 30 and 50.
Recently, a discovery was made at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City that involves the berry of a common plant. The plant is question is the Christmas Berry Primrose plant. A compound from the plant was extracted and was found to stop the cancer’s growth.
“If the results are confirmed in animal models and eventually humans, it could offer a new way to treat metastatic uveal [ocular] melanoma patients down the road,” said Jeffrey Benovic, PhD, the Thomas Eakins Endowed Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at Thomas Jefferson University.
The compound in question is known as FR900359 or FR. It works by blocking a type of membrane on the cancer cell called Gq, which is a signaling molecule. In the lab, FR was shown to block the growth of mutated Gq molecules and stop the cancer growth. In fact, it helped the cells return to normal. Moreover, higher doses of FR actually killed the cancer cells. The next step is to do this research in mouse models.
Hopefully, with further research, FR can lead to the development of drug to treat ocular melanoma. The findings of this research were published in the journal Molecular Cancer Research.
Of course, that isn’t the end of the ocular melanoma research news. Provectus Bio-pharmaceuticals, Inc of Knoxville, Tennessee recently announced that it received orphan drug designation (ODD) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its immunotherapy drug PV-10 to treat ocular melanoma. This drug is the first small molecule immunotherapy drug that utilizes a virus to induce cell death. In other words, this drug is like a heat seeking missile that attacks the tumor and leaves healthy cells alone.
Phase 1 of the research was done on four patients with ocular melanoma that had spread to the liver. All of them received the drug for their liver tumor, two out of the four had received a second round of PV-10 treatment as a result of an additional liver tumor and one patient had to start taking immunotherapy drugs Opdivo® and Yervoy® between PV-10 treatments. The treatments using the PV-10 drug lead to a reduction of tumor size. Phase 2 of the research will include 10 patients with ocular melanoma.
While ocular melanoma is rare, it can lead to eye removal and also can be fatal, so these developments are welcome news to those with this disease.