November 30, 2016
By Michael Kaplan
MRA President & CEO
Six months ago I was offered the opportunity to serve as President & CEO of MRA and in July, I officially began. For the past 24 years, I’ve worked in the HIV field and am struck by the many parallels that exist between my past work and melanoma.
I’m awed by the opportunity in melanoma treatment. The fact that prior to MRA’s founding in 2007, there were only two FDA approved therapies for the treatment of melanoma astounded me, as did MRA’s drive to accelerate research and its role in advancing the development of 11 new treatments.
It is the expansion of treatments in particular that shines a light on key parallels between melanoma and HIV. In 1992, we had one treatment for HIV and an average life span of less than 10 years. Today, there are over 30 treatments available, and the life span for someone infected extends almost as long as the uninfected. Those advances were not found through one magical treatment, but through a better understanding of how to combine treatments; knowing which treatments might work best for individual patients and when to effectively begin treatment. Likewise, in melanoma, while treatments have advanced and some show great promise, it is the combination of treatments that may deliver the most effective results. A glance at MRA’s research portfolio demonstrates key research we are funding to better understand what combinations are most effective and what biomarkers might exist to indicate selection of treatment while exploring new ideas.
In the world of HIV, as in melanoma, one of the most significant challenges is simply that of early diagnosis. For both, timely detection is critical. With this in mind, MRA funded INFORMED — a curriculum designed to train primary care physicians in the early detection of melanoma. Subsequently, MRA funded research that revealed the capacity of this program to increase early diagnosis, without increasing emotional distress or unwarranted procedures among patients.
Other parallels include the approximate 10,000 lives that melanoma and HIV each take annually in the U.S.; the fact that both have seen immense progress in treatment and the reality that patients will achieve the best health outcomes by ensuring they are well educated on treatment options. Beyond these similarities, this new chapter for me is significant on a personal level. I’ve lived the impact of a stage IV cancer diagnosis and passing of my spouse and known the fear of having a parent diagnosed with melanoma. I know all too well the realities of cancer gone unchecked and the prospect of surviving melanoma through expedited research and early detection.
As these are things that give me a sense of purpose, they also light the way as I take on the role of CEO for MRA. I am honored and excited to serve in this capacity, knowing science has been and will continue to be, the crown jewel of MRA’s efforts to reduce death and suffering due to melanoma. I look forward to not only advancing this science, but to communicating to our donors, patients and constituents the caliber of work being carried out by MRA and our research partners. This e-news is the first of many steps in moving forward on that promise as we grow our regular and ongoing communications efforts.