< Back to List

Skin Cancer on Trial

In modern medicine, many molecules are found to hold promise as potential new drugs, but, for many reasons, few ever make it to the clinic. 

That is why the story behind the ongoing clinical trial of a molecule called PLX4032 is so remarkable. PLX4032 is a new melanoma drug that has shown tremendous promise in treating the disease and extending the lives of skin cancer patients. The tale behind the clinical trial, which was recently featured in a three-part New York Times series, weaves together the expertise and passion of Wistar’s Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M, D.Sc., and his collaborator Keith Flaherty, M.D., a clinical oncologist formerly based at Penn.  

While Flaherty was impressed with early reports from PLX4032’s manufacturer on the drug’s selective preference for killing tumor cells, he needed independent confirmation of PLX4032’s potential before he could establish a human clinical trial. For that, he turned to Herlyn and his laboratory at Wistar. Herlyn and his team tested the drug in mice, and published their successful scientific results, giving Flaherty the necessary confirmation to proceed with testing in patients. 

Herlyn and his colleagues have continued to study the biology of B-RAF mutations – whose proteins the drug blocks – and have published a number of studies that describe how cancer cells may eventually become resistant to PLX4032. Herlyn and Flaherty continue to collaborate in research that may lead to multiple-drug combination therapies to prevent tumors from becoming resistant to treatment.