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Combining immunotherapy and BRAF targeted therapy may result in improved antitumor activity with the high response rates of targeted therapy and the durability of responses with immunotherapy. However, the first clinical trial testing the combination of the BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib and the CTLA4 antibody ipilimumab was terminated early because of substantial liver toxicities. MEK [MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) kinase] inhibitors can potentiate the MAPK inhibition in BRAF mutant cells while potentially alleviating the unwanted paradoxical MAPK activation in BRAF wild-type cells that lead to side effects when using BRAF inhibitors alone. However, there is the concern of MEK inhibitors being detrimental to T cell functionality. Using a mouse model of syngeneic BRAFV600E-driven melanoma, SM1, we tested whether addition of the MEK inhibitor trametinib would enhance the antitumor activity of combined immunotherapy with the BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib. Combination of dabrafenib and trametinib with pmel-1 adoptive cell transfer (ACT) showed complete tumor regression, increased T cell infiltration into tumors, and improved in vivo cytotoxicity. Single-agent dabrafenib increased tumor-associated macrophages and T regulatory cells (Tregs) in tumors, which decreased with the addition of trametinib. The triple combination therapy resulted in increased melanosomal antigen and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) expression and global immune-related gene up-regulation. Given the up-regulation of PD-L1 seen with dabrafenib and/or trametinib combined with antigen-specific ACT, we tested the combination of dabrafenib, trametinib, and anti-PD1 therapy in SM1 tumors, and observed superior antitumor effect. Our findings support the testing of triple combination therapy of BRAF and MEK inhibitors with immunotherapy in patients with BRAFV600E mutant metastatic melanoma.
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