Advanced basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is usually curable if the lesions are restricted to a small area of the skin. However, in rare cases, the lesions can become disfiguring, invade surrounding tissue, or metastasize. In these instances of advanced BCC, the disease cannot be effectively treated with surgery or radiation — the standard treatments.
What is vismodegib?
On January 30, 2012, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approved vismodegib (Erivedge®, made by Genentech, Inc. USA) for the treatment of adults with metastatic basal cell carcinoma. It is not currently funded by PHARMAC in New Zealand (Aug 2016).
Vismodegib is intended for use in adult patients with locally advanced basal cell cancer who are not candidates for surgery or radiation and for patients whose cancer has metastasized.
This is the first FDA-approved drug for use in advanced forms of BCC, one of the most common skin cancers.
How is vismodegib administered?
- Vismodegib is supplied as a capsule for oral administration.
- The recommended initial dose is 150 mg taken orally once daily until disease progression or until unacceptable toxicity.
- If a dose is missed, do not make up that dose; resume dosing with the next scheduled dose.
- Vismodegib may be taken with or without food.
- Patients are advised to swallow capsules whole and not to crush or open the capsules.
- Capsules should be stored at room temperature between 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C).
How does vismodegib act?
- Vismodegib is an oral drug that is designed to selectively inhibit abnormal signalling in the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway, which is an underlying molecular driver of BCC.
- Vismodegib binds to and inhibits Smoothened, a transmembrane protein involved in Hedgehog signal transduction.
- The Hh pathway promotes cellular development and division in several cell types, both by direct cellular activation and by secondary activation of multiple pathways of tissue generation, including angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation) and tissue growth.
- The Hh pathway is typically over-activated in BCC through down regulation of Hedgehog signal inhibition.
Potential drug interactions with vismodegib
- Systemic exposure to vismodegib and incidence of adverse events may be increased when the drug is co-administered with clarithromycin, erythromycin or azithromycin, antibiotics that inhibit the efflux transporter P- glycoprotein.
- Vismodegib does not inhibit or induce CYP450 enzymes.
- Drugs that alter the pH of the upper gastrointestinal tract (e.g. proton pump inhibitors, H2-receptor antagonists, and antacids) may alter the solubility of vismodegib and reduce its bioavailability.
- No formal clinical study has been conducted to evaluate the effect of gastric pH altering agents on the efficacy of vismodegib.
- Vismodegib does not interact with oral contraceptives
Adverse events associated with vismodegib
The most common adverse reactions (incidence of 10% or more) associated with vismodegib are:
- muscle spasms
- hair loss / drug-induced alopecia
- altered taste sensation
- weight loss
- decreased appetite
Use in pregnancy
- Vismodegib has been approved with a boxed warning stating that use of this drug can result in embryo-fetal death or severe birth defects.
- Vismodegib can cause the baby to die before it is born (be stillborn) or cause the baby to have severe birth defects.
- Pregnancy status must be verified prior to initiation of treatment with vismodegib.
- A pregnancy test must be done in women of childbearing potential within 7 days before starting vismodegib.
- Women need to be advised of the need for contraception.
- In order to avoid pregnancy, highly effective birth control is advised before starting vismodegib, during treatment, and for 9 months after the last dose of the drug (note: this time was extended in March 2016, from an earlier time of 7 months).
- All male patients, even those with prior vasectomy, should use condoms with spermicide, during sexual intercourse with female partners while taking vismodegib and for at least 2 months after the last drug dose.
Use of vismodegib in nursing mothers
- There is a potential for serious adverse reactions from vismodegib in nursing infants.
- Discontinue drug or nursing taking into consideration the importance of the medication to the mother.
- Patients are advised not to donate blood or blood products while receiving vismodegib and for at least 9 months after the last drug dose.
- The safety and effectiveness of vismodegib have not been established in children. Vismodegib is not approved for paediatric use.
- Cases of premature fusion of the epiphyses (growth plates) have been reported in children with the use of vismodegib.
- Clinical studies of vismodegib did not include sufficient numbers of patients aged 65 years and over to determine whether they respond differently from younger patients.
- The safety and effectiveness of vismodegib have not been established in patients with liver disease.
- The safety and effectiveness of vismodegib have not been established in patients with kidney disease.
- In a study in 60 healthy subjects, therapeutic doses of vismodegib did not have a significant effect on the QTc interval (a measure of the time between the start of the Q wave and the end of the T wave in the heart's electrical cycle).
Future considerations for vismodegib
Roche and Genentech are currently evaluating vismodegib in a phase 2 trial for patients with operable forms of BCC.