Targeted Therapies for Melanoma

Targeted therapies are designed to target the gene on a melanoma cell that makes it different from a healthy cell.

Approximately half of all melanomas exhibit mutations on the BRAF gene, which means these cancer cells have to manufacture an altered B-RAF protein so they can grow. Drugs called BRAF inhibitors have been developed to target this protein, as well as related proteins, like the MEK protein. Drugs that act as MEK inhibitors and BRAF inhibitors are often combined, which has been shown to shrink tumors for longer time periods that using either drug by itself.

BRAF Inhibitors

Drugs that target the BRAF protein are dabrafenib (Tafinlar), vemurafenib (Zelboraf), and encorafenib (Braftovi). They are taken as capsules or pills, and can be used in combination with surgery for advanced melanomas. BRAF inhibitors can shrink a tumor or slow the tumors’ growth.  

The most common side effects of BRAF inhibitors may include:

  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Thickening of the skin

MEK Inhibitors

Therapies designed to target the MEK protein include trametinib (Mekinist), cobimetinib (Cotellic), and binimetinib (Mektovi). Because the MEK gene works with the BRAF gene, drugs that target the MEK protein could also be effective against melanomas with BRAF mutations.

The most common side effects of MEK inhibitors include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Swelling