The Other Skin Cancer

Basal cell skin cancer drug erivedge effective for basal cell nevus syndrome

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Basal cell skin cancer is a lot more common than melanoma. Since the risk of this cancer spreading is lower, it doesn't get quite the same amount of attention.

Clinical testing of Erivedge (vismodegib) was effective in reducing the size of basal cell skin cancers, and was very effective in preventing new basal cell cancers in patients with basal cell nevus syndrome (BCNS).

BCNS is a genetic condition that can lead to hundreds of basal cell tumors forming.

"Ask your doctor about basal cell skin cancer."

The study was led by researchers at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, together with the Children's Hospital of Oakland Research Institute.

The research team tracked patients with basal cell nevus syndrome, also called Gorlin syndrome, to view the effectiveness of the drug. 

“In its current formulation, vismodegib is appropriate only for BCNS patients with very large numbers of basal cell skin cancers. Still, this is a huge step forward, pointing to the day when we can offer every one of these patients an alternative to repeated surgery, which can be disfiguring and burdensome,” stated the research director, David R. Bickers, MD.

The study followed 42 patients with the genetic condition basal cell nevus syndrome for 18 months, with over 2,000 basal cell cancers found and nearly 700 new basal cell skin cancers growing during that time period.

For patients on placebo alone, an average of 29 new basal cell cancers were detected during the 18 months. In contrast, patients taking Erivedge only had an average of 2.3 new cancers during that same time period. 

In the placebo group, the average size of basal cell skin cancer also shrank by 11 percent, and patients taking Erivedge had their existing cancers shrink by 65 percent.

While the current treatment for these patients is surgery, Erivedge was designed to offer an alternative.

“Vismodegib is a new treatment option for those with extensive disease, particularly those whose lives may be devastated by the disease and the need for repeated treatment,” Dr. Bickers stated. He added that he would not recommend Erivedge for patients without basal cell nevus syndrome due to the extensive nature of the side effects and the ease of surgery.

However, for patients with basal cell nevus syndrome, or for the rare cases of basal cell skin cancer metastasis, Erivedge may offer the only effective medical treatment.

Side effects disclosed by the researchers included loss of appetite, inability to taste, fatigue, and hair loss in nearly half of the patients enrolled in the trial.

On a molecular biology note, Erivedge targets the sonic hedgehog pathway, which is important in cellular development, and members of this protein family are involved in many cancers.

Erivedge was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January, 2012.

Research was funded in part by Genentech, the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, among others.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 8, 2012
Last Updated:
July 17, 2012