Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) investigators and other melanoma researchers had a significant presence at this year’s annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) held in National Harbor, Maryland. A key forum for scientific exchange and enlightenment in the cancer immunotherapy field, the conference had over 2,700 attendees from across the globe.
More than 15 MRA affiliated scientists delivered findings from their research as featured speakers.
Suzanne L. Topalian, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Chair of the MRA Scientific Advisory Panel and member of MRA’s Board of Directors was among the group of scientists presenting at the meeting. Dr.Topalian, recipient of the SITC Richard V. Smalley, MD Memorial Award and Lectureship, proffered the Smalley Keynote Address, discussing PD-1 blockade in cancer treatment. She joined the John Hopkins faculty in 2006 as inaugural director of the Melanoma Program in its Kimmel Cancer Center and has been the recipient of numerous honors, including the 2015 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture and the 2016 Taubman Prize awarded for her groundbreaking work in cancer immunotherapy. Her research focuses on manipulating “immune checkpoints” such as PD-1 in cancer therapy and discovering biomarkers predicting clinical outcomes.
MRA has supported immunotherapy research since its formation in 2007, including team science awards to Topalian and her colleagues at John Hopkins. Topalian served as MRA’s first chief science officer. In addition to chairing its Scientific Advisory Panel, she serves on the Medical Advisory Panel and on MRA’s Grant Review Committee that provides scientific, merit-based peer review of research proposals submitted to MRA.
“I’ve been able to carry out research in the laboratory and clinic with support from MRA, an organization that is distinctly focused on fostering groundbreaking research with the potential to bring new effective treatment to patients,” says Topalian. “MRA has played a significant role in making it possible for investigators and physician-scientists to progress as we have in establishing immunotherapy as a modality for treating melanoma and other cancers.”
Dr. Topalian notes that an important part of her MRA funded research focuses on defining how the immune system interacts with melanoma and how to use immunotherapies evermore effectively. She says immunotherapy research is one of the most important areas of investigation in melanoma and has brought several new treatments to the clinic for patients with melanoma just within the past few years.
Melanoma has been a case study for immunotherapy. Data generated by MRA-funded scientists is now benefiting patients with several different types of cancer, including lung, kidney, head and neck and bladder cancers and Hodgkin lymphoma.
In 2014 and 2016, MRA and SITC joined together to fund a Pilot Award and a Young Investigator Award to further MRA and SITC’s shared goals for expanding knowledge of immunotherapy. MRA and SITC furthered their collaboration by delivering educational content to patients and caregivers. In 2015 the two groups, in concert with The Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education, hosted an Immunotherapy Patient Forum to provide participants the latest findings in immunotherapy to treat melanoma and other cancers.