Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma Raises $1.6 Million for Melanoma Research

By Jennifer Engel

LFFM blog pic

On May 19, the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) took over Rockefeller Center for its Fourth Annual Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma (LFFM) cocktail event.  As a customary kick-off to summer, industry executives gathered to raise funds for melanoma research and learn about the importance of early detection and sun safety.

The 2015 LFFM event raised a record $1.6 million for MRA’s research programs, bringing the total amount generated since the event’s inception to more than $5 million. Specifically, the funds raised from the 2015 LFFM event will provide support for four new MRA research awards in the areas of targeted and immunotherapy treatments.  These projects address critical research questions to advance the development of new therapies for melanoma patients and inform our understanding of cancer more broadly.

With men twice as likely to die from melanoma, the leveraged finance industry is a great way to reach men and remind them to protect themselves and their loved ones from the sun’s harmful rays. Guests perused sun-safety merchandise from MRA’s corporate partners to raise additional dollars and also signed up for the annual skin check pledge.

We are so thankful to all the incredible LFFM sponsors and supporters. To learn more about the LFFM event or request to be added to the 2016 invitation list, please email JEngel@curemelanoma.org.

About The Author

Jennifer Engel is the Development Manager, Foundations and Campaigns for the Melanoma Research Alliance.

Melanoma Awareness: The Importance of Early Detection

The survival rate for melanoma depends a lot on the stage of the cancer. When caught early, melanoma is highly curable.Layout 1

While the overall five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with melanoma is high at 92 percent, the survival rate decreases dramatically once melanoma spreads to other parts of the body. And while treatments for late-stage melanoma are improving rapidly, thanks to research supported by MRA, the survival rates are still low.

That’s why early detection of melanoma is so important. Here are a few tips to help with early detection:

Know Your Skin and Examine it Regularly. Recognizing changes in the skin is the best way to detect melanoma early. Add monthly skin checks to your routine.

Look for the ABCDEs of Melanoma. Pay attention to moles or growths that are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, exhibit changes in color, have a diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser, or have evolved in size or thickness. If you notice one or more of these signs, see your healthcare provider.

Know If You Are At Higher Risk

People with the following traits are at higher risk for developing melanoma and other skin cancers:

  • Fair skin
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Light eyes
  • More than 50 moles
  • History of sunburn or UV exposure
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancer

Getting to know your skin and recognizing any changes is the best way to help detect melanoma and other skin cancers. Learn more ways to educate yourself.

Corporate Partners Join in the Fight Against Melanoma

By Logan Kastner, Director of Development and Marketing at MRA

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Melanoma Awareness Month is off to a great start! We have so many people and corporations to thank for all they are doing to raise awareness of this deadly cancer. Like so many of you, the Melanoma Research Alliance is committed to ending death and suffering caused by melanoma. And, we are passionate about building partnerships that will help us continue to fund cutting-edge melanoma cancer research.

We collaborate with like-minded corporations through cause marketing programs that promote melanoma awareness among the public and generate critical funding all year round. Our corporate partners help us to extend our reach by tapping into new networks to share important messages about melanoma research and melanoma prevention. They have devoted time, energy and resources to help raise awareness and funds that support MRA.

Nearly 20 companies have joined our efforts to make a difference against this disease. We encourage you to check out our corporate partners page and consider supporting them. Together, we’ll make a greater impact and truly make a difference in the fight against melanoma!

About The Author

Logan E. Kastner is Director of Marketing and Development for the Melanoma Research Alliance. Kastner joined MRA in 2015 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), where she worked as senior director of member value creation and meeting services.

Kicking off Melanoma Awareness Month

Today marks the start of Melanoma Awareness Month, a time of reflection and, indeed, excitRates of melanoma are increasing.ement in the field of melanoma research. Eight new drugs have been approved for melanoma in five years, which is remarkable progress.

But the death rate for patients with advanced melanoma is still high. As rates of melanoma continue to rise, prevention and early detection are the best strategy for improving outcomes in melanoma.

Melanoma of the skin is one of the most common cancers in the United States – among the top 10 causes of new cancer cases.

Here are some easy ways you can help during Melanoma Awareness Month:

  • Increase Awareness: Take steps to learn how to reduce your risk of developing melanoma. View our Melanoma Awareness Resources.
  • Spread the Word: We’ll be sharing information throughout the month on social media and encourage you to share as well. Feel free to use our infographics.
  • Get To Know Our Partners: Many of our corporate partners are launching promotional campaigns during the month of May that will benefit MRA. View our list of corporate partners and consider supporting them.

Thanks for helping to raise awareness about melanoma!

Breakthrough Medicine: Highlights from Milken Institute’s Global Conference

Earlier this week, Melanoma Research Alliance Chief Science Officer Louise Perkins, PhD, moderated a panel at the 2015 Milken Institute Global Conference. Titled “Breakthrough Medicine: Will Finding a Cure Be Just the Start of Saving Lives?” the panel featured experts across the medical landscape, from industry to practitioners to insurers. With new therapies showing real promise and a national focus on precision medicine, this is an exciting time for science, yet challenges remain.

“The cost to create breakthrough drugs threatens to break the innovators who develop them, as well as the institutes who pick up the tab to pull them forward,” said Dr. Perkins.

Read more about the panel on the Milken Institute’s Currency of Ideas blog or watch the video.

A Patient’s Take on MRA’s Scientific Retreat

Melanoma patient and blogger T.J. Sharpe attended the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat last month. While the retreat is primarily intended as a way for doctors and researchers to share the latest information on melanoma research, we try to include patients, foundations, families and others who care about melanoma. T.J.’s blog post offers a unique look at the retreat, from a patient’s perspective.  

Melanoma Patient T.J. Sharpe at MRA

Patient T.J. Sharpe at the Melanoma Research Alliance Scientific Retreat

Top 10 melanoma buzzwords from the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat

1. Momentum

Melanoma is leading the way on the crest of the immunotherapy treatments. I couldn’t get an active number of melanoma clinical trials involving immunotherapies, but it’s in the double digits (unfortunately, many – like mine – are already closed to new participants). Counting targeted therapies and combination trials pushes that number higher. These researchers really are at the cutting edge of oncology.

It’s not just melanoma that benefits, either. Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s anti-PD-1 Opdivo gained expanded approval to treat Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). In the last year, Opdivo received breakthrough designation for Hodgkin lymphoma, and Merck’s Keytruda got the same for NSCLC. Related, Genetech’s PD-L1 drug MPDL3280A, which operates similarly to PD-1, was given breakthrough status for NSCLC after already being granting it for bladder cancer.

2. Progress

The very first presentation opened up with the question, “When do we get to stop comparing to chemotherapy?” With six approved targeted immunotherapies in the last four years (plus one combination), the question probably should be “Why are we even using chemotherapy anymore?”  Between the existing approvals and the pipeline of clinical trials using combinations and/or new drugs, chemotherapy should be a thing of the past for nearly all melanoma patients by the MRA’s 10th Scientific Retreat in 2018.

3. Collaboration

The entire conference – heck, most of the HOTEL – was focused on sharing trial data and its implications. The 250 attendees were made up of about 70 percent researchers, and side conversations were rarely about anything BUT melanoma. I got in a word about German Shepherds to one oncologist, whose wife breeds them and gave one to a college friend. Otherwise, this was all about rustling the coats out of the labs and into a room to share, converse and question. There was even a little spirited ad-hoc “discussion” over BRAF during one of the Q&A sessions – it was somewhat humorous to hear biochemistry being hotly debated (even if you don’t understand either side). This is how treatments, and cures, get accelerated.

4. Ecosystem

Among its multiple references at the retreat, this was brought up in discussions connecting skin cancer prevention, earlier skin cancer detection, and treatments addressing melanomas before they reach the critical metastatic phase. There was an entire panel devoted to prevention and early detection, which may not have the scientific splash of “curing cancer” but is by far the most effective treatment.

Yervoy, the first immunotherapy to make a big splash, is now being considered by the FDA as an adjuvant treatment of Stage 3 melanomas that have been surgically removed. (An adjuvant is given after an initial treatment, such as surgery or radiation, has removed detectable cancer.) This is great news, as stage 3 patients are at a high risk for recurrence but have limited treatment options until they are reclassified as Stage 4.

5. Urgency

There was a common theme of “not being satisfied with good enough”, speaking in terms of both science and regulation. It isn’t enough that new drugs show improvement; work will continue until melanoma is eradicated. Nor are the headlines generated by recent breakthroughs sufficient, when there are still patients worldwide with limited knowledge or access to the best treatments. As an example of urgency meeting progress, Keytruda is now available in the UK in their Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS), allowing British patients to access the medicine even before U.K. regulatory approval.

6. Complexity

There is the targeting of co-stimulator pathways like ICOS, 41BB, CTLA-4; LAG3, BTLA checkpoint inhibitors; and PI3K mechanisms, JAK1 and RNF125 binds were all discussed. Complex enough, or do you want examples?   These guys are S-M-A-R-T.

7. Brilliance

See above.

8. Combinations

Targeted combinations were presented, including potential additions to the toolbox of BRAF and MEK inhibitor drugs. UCLA researchers recently uncovered how melanoma eventually resists these targeted therapies, by developing genetic changes in certain cancer genes. Reversing these changes or shutting them off completely with a new drug/new combination would delay or even eliminate the resistance that occurs in most targeted therapy patients.

Priority review has also recently been granted for the combination of Genetech BRAF drugs cobimetinib and vemurafenib (Zelboraf). Combinations have been a hot topic since last year’s ASCO “Melanoma Monday” campaign presented initial data on several studies that showed extremely strong responses to multiple therapies.

9. Determination

Getting a new cancer drug to market isn’t just dropping a bunch of tumor cells inside a lab rat and seeing which compounds work best (there was one discussion that even concluded with “So now we should see what happens in human patients…”). This takes hours and hours per day, days and days per month, then months and months over years just to get a chance to utter that line. Finding the molecular needle in the haystack is more than divide and conquer, too. There is a special kind of dedication that goes into the extended search for a cure – one that spans entire careers building knowledge and experience looking for that breakthrough moment.

10. Hope

All the acronyms, molecular-this and pathway-that process into one conclusion: There are a significant number of irons in the melanoma fire, many having startling efficacy. These forward-looking presentations provide the one thing all cancer patients cling to – the hope of being one of the “lucky” ones whose biology happens to respond to available treatments. Research is finding long-term survival plateaus around year 3 for Yervoy patients, and this rate holds steady going out many years.

Jim Allison closed the retreat down with the observation that those long-term survivors are dying of something other than melanoma. The momentum of current progress, the urgency of collaboration, and the brilliant combinations of the complex treatment ecosystems has given me hope and determination to prove Dr. Allison right. Dying of old age would be a happy ending to this blog, wouldn’t it?

This blog post originally appeared on Philly.com. Read the original post.

Dateline Chicago: MRA and GRACE Immunotherapy Forum

By Louise M. Perkins, PhD

Immunotherapy Patient Forum collage

Dr. Jedd Wolchok & Rusty Cline, Carlea Bauman & Wendy Selig, Drs. Wolchok, Louise Perkins & Suzanne Topalian, Drs. Michael Atkins, Drew Pardoll & Wolchok

On Sunday October 26, MRA and its partner GRACE (Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education) held a forum for patients/caregivers with melanoma, kidney cancer and lung cancer at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.  Despite the fact that it was a gorgeous day outside—warm and sunny for Chicago in late October—nearly 60 patients/caregivers attended the forum from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.  The meeting format involved a general session with a series of talks followed by a panel discussion centered on questions from the audience. In addition, there was a lunchtime disease-specific breakout for melanoma, kidney cancer or lung cancer.  There was a lot of energy throughout the day and it was gratifying to see a full house for the meeting!

The content reflected the world-class expertise of the presenters who spoke from their various perspectives covering not only the hard-core science behind immunotherapy (Drew Pardoll) but also clinical insights offered by Michael Atkins, Matthew Helmann, Jason Luke, Sumanta Pal, Suzanne Topalian, and Jedd Wolchok.  We were thrilled to also have presentations by Rusty Cline, a Stage IV melanoma patient who told of his experience with the disease and the current success he is having with anti-PD-1 therapy and Marianne Davis, NP who gave a superb description of immunotherapy side-effects and their management.

I had the pleasure of moderating the melanoma session at which Drs. Suzanne Topalian and Jedd Wolchok spoke on what have we learned from clinical studies to date and the future of melanoma immunotherapy.  If you don’t know it, Drs. Topalian and Wolchok are true giants in the field, as well as MRA-funded investigators and strong supporters of MRA.  Dr. Wolchok heads the Melanoma and Immunotherapy Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and has been involved in many ground-breaking clinical programs with anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD-1 drugs for melanoma patients. In addition to her outstanding research on melanoma and immunotherapy biomarkers, Dr. Topalian was my predecessor as MRA’s Chief Science Officer, is chair of our Scientific Advisory Panel and is an MRA Board Member. Whew!  It is awe-inspiring to be with these two and we were honored to have them there to share their insights directly with the melanoma patients in the room.

You may be thinking, “Rats—I wish I could’ve been there!”  Well, stay tuned as the entire meeting was filmed and the video should be available via our website in a few weeks.

Altogether, this was a fantastic meeting and I’ll leave you with just a few comments from the presenters that encapsulate the day. Dr. Matthew Hellman remarked that over a century’s worth of laboratory and clinical research is yielding the first fruits of significant progress in the use of immunotherapy against cancer. As Dr. Drew Pardoll stated, now is the time to re-think how we do cancer research based on major advances in immunotherapy for melanoma, lung and kidney cancers.   And as pointed out by Dr. Wolchok, this success with immunotherapy is just the beginning of the end.  We couldn’t agree more.  Let’s just make sure we keep pushing to get to the end as soon as possible.

About the Author

Louise Perkins HeadshotLouise M. Perkins, Ph.D., joined the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) as Chief Science Officer in 2013 where she is responsible for the development and implementation of MRA’s scientific strategy.  Her interests center on translational research with specific concentration on genomics, drug discovery and the advancement of novel therapeutic approaches. Prior to joining MRA, she was Chief Scientific Officer at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for five years following a research career of 16 years at two major pharmaceutical companies.