Treatment with therapy targeting BRAF and MEK (BRAF/MEK) has revolutionized care in melanoma and other cancers; however, therapeutic resistance is common and innovative treatment strategies are needed1,2. Here we studied a group of patients with melanoma who were treated with neoadjuvant BRAF/MEK-targeted therapy (NCT02231775, n = 51) and observed significantly higher rates of major pathological response (MPR; ≤10% viable tumour at resection) and improved recurrence-free survival (RFS) in female versus male patients (MPR, 66% versus 14%, P = 0.001; RFS, 64% versus 32% at 2 years, P = 0.021). The findings were validated in several additional cohorts2–4 of patients with unresectable metastatic melanoma who were treated with BRAF- and/or MEK-targeted therapy (n = 664 patients in total), demonstrating improved progression-free survival and overall survival in female versus male patients in several of these studies. Studies in preclinical models demonstrated significantly impaired anti-tumour activity in male versus female mice after BRAF/MEK-targeted therapy (P = 0.006), with significantly higher expression of the androgen receptor in tumours of male and female BRAF/MEK-treated mice versus the control (P = 0.0006 and P = 0.0025). Pharmacological inhibition of androgen receptor signalling improved responses to BRAF/MEK-targeted therapy in male and female mice (P = 0.018 and P = 0.003), whereas induction of androgen receptor signalling (through testosterone administration) was associated with a significantly impaired response to BRAF/MEK-targeted therapy in male and female patients (P = 0.021 and P < 0.0001). Together, these results have important implications for therapy.
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