University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers found that an experimental cancer drug stops melanoma and other forms of cancer. According to them, the drug pevonedistat  may be effective against melanomas that have resisted other treatment.

Pevonedistat targets the protein that melanomas and other cancers need to copy themselves quickly with fatal results. The protein is produced by the gene CDT2.

High amounts of the CDT2 protein are also found in other tumors like in the brain, breast and liver tumors. Hence, physicians could use the level of the protein to determine a patient’s disease prognosis.


University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers (from left) Kangping Du, Ph.D.; graduate student Mouadh Benamar; and Tarek Abbas, Ph.D. Credit: Josh Barney/UVA Health System

Without the protein, cancer cells stop dividing and begin to deteriorate. The experimental drug was already tested before and other researchers found that it shuts down many different cellular proteins, but no one knew how it really worked until now.

“We think that this is what lets the cancer cells cope with the amount of replication they must undergo,” says lead researcher Tarek Abbas. “They divide in uncontrolled fashion, and those cells that divide faster and more frequently are under tremendous replication stress, so these cancer cells needed to be able to develop a way to cope with that.”

The research team also found that the drug works more effectively on melanoma cells that have higher levels of expression of CDT2. Nevertheless, the researchers maintain that more research is still needed.

The researchers are still conducting tests on the safety and effectiveness of pevonedistat. In spite of this,  Abbas is optimistic that the experimental drug could one day treat melanoma, adding: “We actually show this drug can work on melanoma that resisted treatment, which is a major challenge in melanoma therapy. … If approved by the FDA and it moves forward, this drug could potentially be a good second-line therapy for those patients that fail initial treatment.”