The B-raf gene is mutated in up to 66% of human malignant melanomas, and its protein product, BRAF kinase, is a key part of RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK (MAPK) pathway of cancer cell proliferation. BRAF-targeted therapy induces significant responses in the majority of patients, and the combination BRAF/MEK inhibitor enhances clinical efficacy, but the response to BRAF inhibitor and to BRAF/MEK inhibitor is short lived. On the other hand, treatment of melanoma with an immune checkpoint inhibitor, such as anti-PD-1, has lower response rate but the response is much more durable, lasting for years. For this reason, it was suggested that combination of BRAF/MEK and PD-1 inhibitors will significantly improve overall survival time.
This paper develops a mathematical model to address the question of the correlation between BRAF/MEK inhibitor and PD-1 inhibitor in melanoma therapy. The model includes dendritic and cancer cells, CD 4(+) and CD 8(+) T cells, MDSC cells, interleukins IL-12, IL-2, IL-6, IL-10 and TGF- β, PD-1 and PD-L1, and the two drugs: BRAF/MEK inhibitor (with concentration γ B ) and PD-1 inhibitor (with concentration γ A ). The model is represented by a system of partial differential equations, and is used to develop an efficacy map for the combined concentrations (γ B ,γ A ). It is shown that the two drugs are positively correlated if γ B and γ A are at low doses, that is, the growth of the tumor volume decreases if either γ B or γ A is increased. On the other hand, the two drugs are antagonistic at some high doses, that is, there are zones of (γ B ,γ A ) where an increase in one of the two drugs will increase the tumor volume growth, rather than decrease it.
It will be important to identify, by animal experiments or by early clinical trials, the zones of (γ B ,γ A ) where antagonism occurs, in order to avoid these zones in more advanced clinical trials.