Allosteric MEK1/2 inhibitors including cobimetanib and trametinib in the treatment of cutaneous melanomas

Pharmacol Res. 2017 Mar;117:20-31. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2016.12.009. Epub 2016 Dec 9.


The Ras-Raf-MEK-ERK (Map kinase) cellular pathway is a highly conserved eukaryotic signaling module that transduces extracellular signals from growth factors and cytokines into intracellular regulatory events that are involved in cell growth and proliferation or the contrary pathway of cell differentiation. Dysregulation of this pathway occurs in more than one-third of all malignancies, a process that has fostered the development of targeted Map kinase pathway inhibitors. Cutaneous melanomas, which arise from skin melanocytes, are the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Mutations that activate the Map kinase pathway occur in more than 90% of these melanomas. This has led to the development of the combination of dabrafenib and trametinib or vemurafenib and cobimetanib for the treatment of BRAF V600E mutant melanomas. Dabrafenib and vemurafenib target V600E/K BRAF mutants while trametinib and cobimetanib target MEK1/2. The latter two agents bind to MEK1/2 at a site that is adjacent to, but separate from, the ATP-binding site and are therefore classified as type III allosteric protein kinase inhibitors. These agents form a hydrogen bond with a conserved β3-lysine and they make numerous hydrophobic contacts with residues within the αC-helix, the β5 strand, and within the activation segment, regions of the protein kinase domain that exhibit greater diversity than those found within the ATP-binding site. One advantage of such allosteric inhibitors is that they do not have to compete with millimolar concentrations of cellular ATP, which most FDA-approved small molecule competitive inhibitors such as imatinib must do. Owing to the wide spread activation of this pathway in numerous neoplasms, trametinib and cobimetinib are being studied in combination with other targeted and cytotoxic drugs in a variety of clinical situations. Except for BRAF and NRAS mutations, there are no other biomarkers correlated with treatment responses following MEK1/2 inhibition and the discovery of such biomarkers would represent an important therapeutic breakthrough.

Keywords: Brimetinib: (PubMED CID: 10288191); Catalytic spine; Cobimetinib: (PubMED CID:16222096); Dabrafenib: (PubMED CID: 44462760); ERK1/2; K/E/D/D; MK-2206 (PubMED CID: 46930998); Raf; Ras; Regulatory spine; Selumetinib: (PubMED CID: 10127622); Trametinib: (PubMed CID:11707110); Vemurafenib: (PubMED CID: 42611257).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Pyridones / pharmacology*
  • Pyridones / therapeutic use*
  • Pyrimidinones / pharmacology*
  • Pyrimidinones / therapeutic use*
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridones
  • Pyrimidinones
  • trametinib
  • MAP2K2 protein, human
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 2
  • MAP2K1 protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Melanoma, Cutaneous Malignant