HIV Drug Can Treat Drug-Resistant Skin Cancer

The drug nelfinavir, used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), may also benefit skin cancer patients.

The drug nelfinavir, used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), may also benefit skin cancer patients.

New research reveals that nelfinavir works to stop skin cancer cells from developing drug resistance to targeted therapies.

The latest study analyzed tumors from 11 patients with melanoma who were on standard cancer treatments with vemurafenib or a dabrafenib-and-trametinib combination.

After assessing the nelfinavir-affected skin cells in mice, the researchers found that the HIV drug blocks the molecular switch that promotes cells’ ability to survive and become resistant to treatment.

“We show that inhibiting MITF expression by nelfinavir has a potent enhancer effect on the action of BRAF and MEK inhibitors. Moreover, even in cells that do not display elevated expression of MITF, its relevance for melanoma cell survival appears to be sufficient for inhibitor sensitization,” the researchers said.

According to Claudia Wellbrock, PhD, The University of Manchester, the latest findings indicate the combination of nelfinavir and currently approved skin cancer treatments can significantly improve drug potency by preventing tumors from developing drug resistance.

“In the first few weeks of standard treatment for skin cancer, the cancer cells become stronger and more robust against treatment,” Wellbrock said in a news release.

Wellbrock and colleague acknowledged the latest research has helped improve the approach of targeting skin cancer cells before they become fully resistant — one of the biggest steps in the field.