Melanoma’s ‘Safe Haven’ Targeted for Shut-Down

April 15, 2015

Media Release Extracts

Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK have discovered that a side effect of BRAF inhibitors is that they prompt healthy cells to form a 'safe haven' shielding melanoma cells from cancer drugs. So even if some cancer cells are destroyed, the protected cancer cells may survive – and the disease can recur in a form that is untreatable.

Carried out in cells in the laboratory, in mice and in samples from patients' tumours, the researchers showed this 'safe haven' lets melanoma cells turn on a parallel set of cell signals that helps them survive. By adding a second experimental drug that blocks this alternative survival route by targeting a protein called FAK, the researchers discovered that resistance to BRAF inhibitors can be overcome. This combination of two drugs increased cell death and slowed growth in cell samples, and also stopped tumours from growing larger in mice. Importantly, while not a cure, adding a second targeted therapy could help improve treatments by overcoming drug resistance and extending the time before the cancer returns.

FAK inhibitors are being tested on their own in early stage cancer clinical trials, but it will be some years before it is known if combining these drugs with BRAF inhibitors could help patients.


Cancer Research UK media release:

Journal article: Frame, MC, et al. FAK to the Rescue: Activated Stroma Promotes a "Safe Haven" for BRAF-Mutant Melanoma Cells by Inducing FAK Signaling. Cancer Cell. Volume 27, Issue 4April 13, 2015. DOI:

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