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Author: DermNet NZ Editor in Chief Adjunct A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. January 2018.
This article was supported by an educational grant from Roche New Zealand, distributors of Cotellic™ (cobimetinib) in New Zealand. Sponsorship does not influence content.
Targeted cancer therapies are drugs used to treat certain malignant tumours by blocking the action of particular molecular targets such as genes and proteins. They are classified as small molecules or monoclonal antibodies.
They are also called precision medicines.
Targeted cancer therapies interact with a target molecule to prevent tumour cells proliferating.
Targeted cancer therapies are classified as:
Targeted therapies are currently used in dermatology for patients with advanced cancers. They are also used in clinical trials as adjuvant therapy (supplementary treatment given to people who are in remission from their cancer but are at high risk of relapse in the future).
Advanced skin cancers
Several targeted therapies are marketed in dermatology to treat advanced skin cancers, and others are in development.
Several products are marketed to treat unresectable metastatic melanoma.
Several products are being investigated to treat advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma; these include:
Targeted therapies have many side effects, including adverse cutaneous reactions. In some cases, side effects are associated with excellent tumour response.
See Cutaneous adverse effects of checkpoint inhibitors and individual drug topics for more details.
The efficacy of targeted therapies is variable. They may lose their efficacy over time, having been initially successful at reducing tumour growth and in some cases leading to complete remission.
See individual drug topics for more details.
If you are not based in New Zealand, we suggest you refer to your national drug approval agency for further information about medicines (eg, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration) or a national or state-approved formulary (eg, the New Zealand Formulary and New Zealand Formulary for Children and the British National Formulary and British National Formulary for Children).
American Cancer Society
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