Promising SWOG research results have been rolling in recently. Here’s one I’m particularly excited about. Investigator Dr. Scott Kopetz of MD Anderson has spent nearly a decade studying BRAF-mutant metastatic colorectal cancer and effective ways to treat it. His exploratory and subsequent work – most recently conducted through SWOG – looks like it will bear fruit.

Last week at the 2017 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, Kopetz reported that patients with this classically treatment-resistant form of colorectal cancer had significantly better outcomes when the BRAF-inhibitor vemurafenib is added to a standard chemotherapy treatment. This really is a big deal; it appears to be the first time anyone has identified an effective treatment for this deadly cancer.

Dr. Howard Hochster, my successor overseeing the GI committee and the senior member of the study team, said this about the Kopetz talk at the symposium: “Excellent presentation. Highly well received and hopefully will set a new standard of care.”

The Kopetz study, S1406, enrolled 106 patients, notable even for that number. Roughly half received the investigational regimen of vemurafenib plus irinotecan and cetuximab. The rest received only the chemobiologic.

Results were striking. Patients who got the typical two-drug combination had a progression-free survival time of two months. Patients who received vemurafenib had a median PFS of 4.4 months. S1406 results also demonstrated a 67% objective response rate, compared with 22% getting the standard treatment.

You can view all the details on the trial here. I congratulate Dr. Kopetz and the S1406 team. It’s great to see a hypothesis move through a Phase I study and blossom into a randomized trial. In the coming months, survival data from S1406 will come in and show whether or not this study changes the standard of care. While we all know clinical cancer research can be long and slow, S1406 might truly pay off for our patients.