Highlights from the National Cancer Moonshot Summit

By Louise Perkins, PhD – MRA Chief Science Officer

National Cancer Moonshot Summit
June 28, 2016
Washington, DC


cancer moonshotThe National Cancer Moonshot was announced by President Obama in his State of the Union Address in January 2016 and VP Biden was charged with spearheading the effort. Few would disagree with Mr. Biden’s selection as leader given the personal experience he and his family endured with the loss of their son, Beau, to cancer. After seeing him speak on the subject at the American Society for Clinical Oncology
meeting, his passion for defeating cancer is very evident as genuine and inspiring. VP Biden continued to convey his passion at the National Cancer Moonshot Summit held two weeks ago in Washington, DC.

This passion is important and widely shared. What’s been gratifying to see is that Mr. Biden has brought in others that share the personal impact, experience, and drive to make a difference.  Greg Simon, the executive director of the Moonshot, was a member of MRA’s Board of Directors, and is a cancer patient himself.  Between the two of them and the Task Force of advisors assembled, the opportunity to propel cancer research forward in new ways is tantalizing.

But passion alone is not enough to exploit available treatments and technology, the potential resources the Moonshot offers, and, importantly, the will to come together to do something different.  Defining the goals of the National Cancer Moonshot and how those will be achieved is critical.

Towards this objective, VP Biden assembled around 300 leaders from around the country to attend the National Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 28 at Howard University in Washington, DC.  It was a privilege to be invited with patients as well as participants from academia, corporations, government and non-profits Hearing the VP and other thoughtful speakers, including emcee Carol Burnett, was a truly inspiring experience.

The overarching objective of the Moonshot is to achieve the work of 10-years in a 5-year timeframe. But how do we get there? 

Moderated working groups were assembled from the Summit participants and tasked to identify the challenges and solutions on topics ranging from improved sharing and harvesting of patient data to increasing the participation of patients in cancer clinical studies. The ideas submitted along with those collected in an online submission tool are to be evaluated by the Task Force as part of the ongoing prioritization of activities to achieve the objective.

What’s next?

We look forward to learning more and participating on behalf of melanoma and all cancer patients to drive towards ever better solutions that speed progress towards improved outcomes.

The Cancer Moonshot is a mission, and all of us #CanServe.

Whither melanoma and whither cancer research? 

By Louise M. Perkins, PhD
Chief Science Officer, Melanoma Research Alliance

There is no doubt that the last few years have seen incredible progress for melanoma patients with 11 treatments approved since MRA’s founding in 2007: personalized medicine, targeted therapy, immunotherapy. What remains to be done for melanoma and other cancers? How are the successes in melanoma and other research areas converging on even greater progress for patients?

The answers to these questions were touched on at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in New Orleans in late April.

First – a quick comment on the AACR Annual Meeting itself. It is the largest meeting of cancer researchers from around the world and takes place during half a week.  In that time, there are many and various presentations covering basic cancer biology, translational research and clinical outcomes.

Image courtesy of AACR twitter account.

Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the 2016 AACR Annual Meeting. Image courtesy of AACR twitter account.

Starting with the opening plenary session (featuring two MRA-funded researchers) and throughout the meeting, one couldn’t help but notice how melanoma remains as the premier case study for immunotherapy – treatment that is benefiting not only melanoma patients, but also lung, kidney and blood cancer patients.  There is continuous forward progress in building beyond the status quo to expand the benefit of these new treatments to many. Meanwhile, data at the meeting revealed that 1 of 3 melanoma patients who received nivolumab were alive at 5 years. Similarly, the news was good for combination immunotherapy with early data showing that two-thirds of patients treated with the nivolumab-ipilimumab combination regimen were alive after 2 years. This is amazing!

But challenges remain. With the increased side-effects of the combination, which patients should get single-agent vs combination therapy? And what new treatments can be brought forward for those who either never benefit or whose tumors progress despite treatment whether they have melanoma or a different cancer?  Radiation therapy, new immunotherapies, different timing of treatments, new targeted therapies, biomarkers that match patients to treatments  – all of these are under study to further improve outcomes for patients.

One last note. Treating cancer is one thing, but doesn’t it sound better to never get cancer in the first place? Unfortunately, most cancers really can’t be prevented. Outcomes are improved by early diagnosis as is the case for breast and colon cancer, but we still can’t prevent most cancers (cervical cancer is a notable exception with HPV-vaccination, by the way).  But melanoma is different and this is incredibly relevant for Melanoma Awareness month. The evidence is clear: ultraviolet light causes DNA damage leading to mutations. And melanoma tumors have the most mutations of any cancer. The pattern of the melanoma mutations is clearly due to UV exposure. Further, in mouse models predisposed to melanoma, broad spectrum sunscreen profoundly decreases the number of melanomas those animals develop. And in the absence of UV light, they get very few tumors.

In practical terms, what does this mean? Basically, use UV-safe practices! Cover up, use sunscreen liberally and avoid UV light whether from the sun or tanning beds.

To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world, “Stay shady, my friends.”


About the Author

Louise 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.

Guest Post from the Polka Dot Mama

This week, we’re featuring a guest post from Tracy Callahan, who founded and leads the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation

T CallahanMy name is Tracy Callahan and I am the Founder and CEO of the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation established in 2015.

I was first diagnosed with early stage melanoma at the age of 38, and by age 40, I had been diagnosed two more times. I am the Mom of two amazing boys ages 8 and 10 and they nicknamed me the “Polka Dot Mama” because of my many moles. I consider myself fortunate that my melanomas were caught early. I know that this is not the case for many.

As a former research nurse, I knew and understood the importance of supporting and funding research. After my third diagnosis I decided to start blogging. I knew that I wanted to use my voice to raise awareness for this often unspoken about cancer. Soon after starting my blog, I reached out to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA).  I knew right away that I wanted to align myself with them and work towards raising money for much needed melanoma research.

In March of 2015, I began planning a Gala. I knew that I wanted it to not only benefit melanoma research, but I also wanted to stay committed to keeping it locally sourced. In addition to being a melanoma advocate, I am also a foodie!

On May 1, 2016, we will host our first annual “Taste For a Cure: Chef’s Gala Benefiting Melanoma Research.” This unique farm-to-table gala will raise money to be donated to the MRA. We have been overwhelmed with the support of our local community. It has been incredible to see local chefs, businesses and sponsors donating their time, talent and services to help us raise as much money as possible.  As of February 4 (World Cancer Day) our event is officially SOLD OUT!

In addition to the Gala, the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation has been working with a local media company and has begun production on public service announcements as well as an awareness video that will debut at the Gala. We have been collaborating with multiple grass roots melanoma moundations across the country in hopes that together we can have a larger impact.

So many advancements have been made with the treatment options for melanoma in the last few years. It is my strong belief that we are on the cusp of not only finding more effective treatments, but also a cure.  The MRA is the largest private funder of melanoma research and I am truly honored to be a charitable ally of theirs.

8th Annual Scientific Retreat Recap

The end of February was a momentous one for the MRA team and all the folks in the melanoma community. We hosted our 8th Annual Scientific Retreat in Washington, DC, and they truly just seem to get better and better.

The Retreat serves two main roles for those invited participants. First, is the centerpiece of scientific knowledge sharing, as evidenced by the more than 20 MRA-funded investigators who presented at the meeting as well as several supplementary events and sessions aimed to provide a holistic look at the state of melanoma research and treatment. Secondly, the Retreat provides an opportunity for participants from all sectors to network. We consistently hear about the new collaborations to fight melanoma that arise from networking at this meeting.

Our Melanoma Forum opened the Retreat with a session about the continuing evolution of patient participation in the research process. It was attended by 50 patients, advocates, and supporters who shared their personal experiences to help advance our work by articulating the unmet needs and burden of the disease from those who understand it personally. Special thanks to Raj Kulkarni, an MRA Young Investigator at UCLA, and Kim McCleary of FasterCures for helping to build out this event.

MRARetreat_Selects-16Our lunchtime panel discussion (left), moderated by Mike Milken, featured four amazing thought leaders in melanoma. Drs. Boris Bastian of UCSF, Levi Garraway of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Lynn Schuchter of U Pennsylvania and Suzanne Topalian of Johns Hopkins University wo provided a look forward for the future of melanoma research.

In addition, we convened the growing group of MRA-funded Young Investigators to explore several key issues in clinical translation, while our Industry Roundtable meeting brought together representatives from the NCI, FDA, academia and industry to thoughtfully address challenges and opportunities for future collaboration on behalf of patients.

MRARetreat_Selects-19A highlight of the meeting was welcoming newly appointed FDA Commissioner Robert Califf (left), who came straight from his confirmation at the White House to deliver remarks to the MRA community.

It was truly a convergence of the brightest stars in the field and a community dedicated to achieving MRA’s mission of defeating melanoma. You can read more about in blog posts from Dr. Len, of the American Cancer Society, and T.J. Sharpe, a melanoma survivor who blogs for Philly.com.

We thank everyone who came to participate in the meeting, as well as our sponsors, who all helped make our 8th Annual Scientific Retreat a success!

 

 

Gearing up for our Annual Scientific Retreat

The Melanoma Research Alliance’s (MRA) annual Scientific Retreat brings together hundreds of scientists, industry professionals, and patients from around the globe to foster collaboration in the field of melanoma research. This year, MRA will host its eighth retreat from February 24-26 in Washington, DC.

This year’s scientific sessions begin with a discussion on potential new therapy targets. Scientists from a variety of institutions, including Duke University and Sheba Medical Center in Israel, will discuss advances in the fields of targeted therapy and immunotherapy. In addition to discussing therapies, a prevention-focused afternoon session will address the pros and cons of mandatory skin screening and the self-screening process.

In efforts to include the expanding role of patients in the research process, this year’s Retreat will include a Melanoma Forum geared toward patients, caregivers, advocates and supporters. Moderated by FasterCuresKim McCleary, patients will be invited to an interactive discussion on their active involvement in research. The forum will provide an excellent venue for patients to engage in discussion and meet other individuals who share a common goal for the future of melanoma research.

flaherty, sigal, topalian

Participants at the 2015 MRA Scientific Retreat

The MRA team is excited to host this extraordinary group of individuals under one roof. Our Chief Science Officer, Louise M. Perkins, Ph.D., is looking forward to seeing so many close colleagues and friends from the melanoma research sphere. “There’s no event quite like this to share the latest in research and to build new collaborations.”

Tasheema Prince, Scientific Program Manager, joined MRA in 2015, and is anticipating her first retreat. “It’s essentially a glimpse into the collective fight to end melanoma and I’m very excited to witness a convening of bright scientific minds in the field,” explains Prince.

We hope the retreat allows individuals to build valuable relationships and accelerate momentum in the field of melanoma research, and ultimately help more patients overcome this disease.

To get more details on the Scientific Retreat visit our website to see a draft agenda and learn more about the event.

Partnering for Cures: How Patients Can Stop Talking and Start Doing Something

Earlier this week, more than 700 thought leaders from throughout the healthcare industry gathered in New York for FasterCures’ Partnering for Cures meeting. This annual event brings together a variety of decision-makers from across diseases who are motivated by the same mission – to reduce the time and cost of getting new therapies from discovery to patients.

JRowbottomFor many attendees, the cause is personal, as they advocate on behalf of a loved one or community. That’s the case for Jeff Rowbottom, who is a member of the MRA Board of Directors. Jeff became involved in MRA after his own diagnosis. He was invited to speak at the closing plenary during Partnering for Cures, sharing insight based on personal experience. Jeff was introduced by his own oncologist, Jedd Wolchok, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

In his introduction, Dr. Wolchok described Jeff as the “ultimate activist patient.”

During Jeff’s talk, he offered advice to others going through a life-changing medical diagnosis:

  1. Network as much as possible. Reaching out to others –organizations, patients, doctors – helped Jeff understand and process his melanoma diagnosis. And seek out the best care. “You can learn a lot even without a Ph.D.,” says Jeff.
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of one. Jeff believes there is a role for everyone to play, regardless of how powerless they may feel. Tackling such a large issue as curing cancer can seem daunting. “Lots of people may say ‘who am I?’ to work on such a big issue,” says Jeff. “But you really never know until you try, and it’s important we all try.”
  3. Connect the dots. Time is the most precious commodity of all, and based on his own experience, Jeff believes it’s important to make connections quickly to have an impact. “You can save people’s lives by getting them to the right doctor.”

Watch Jeff’s speech here. https://youtu.be/VQoA1JtJq0c?t=47m12s

Immunotherapy Patient Forum: 6 Reasons to Attend

On November 7, the Melanoma Research Alliance is co-hosting a Patient Forum on Immunology with Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer. The event will be held at the National Harbor, near Washington, DC. Online registration is open through October 30.

The Forum will cover important topics for several different cancers, including:

  • Melanoma
  • Leukemia/Lymphoma
  • Lung Cancer
  • Genitourinary Cancers

Here are six reasons to attend the Patient Forum:

  1. Hear the Latest Information. The patient forum coincides with the annual meeting for the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, a professional meeting for the leading immunotherapists. You will hear the most up-to-date information and thinking from the leading experts.
  2. Immunotherapy is a Hot Topic for Cancer Treatment. You may have seen some of the news coverage about immunotherapy over the last couple of years. This is your opportunity to hear about the cutting-edge ways we’re using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
  3. Meet Other Patients. Patients from up and down the East Coast will be in attendance. You will have the opportunity to share your experience and learn about their journeys.
  4. Interact with some of the Leading Doctors. The presenters are among the leaders in the field of immunology, and they have deep expertise in caring for patients using the most up-to-date therapies. This intimate forum will provide an opportunity to ask questions and interact with some of these top doctors.
  5. Information Tailored to Your Cancer. The forum will provide a terrific overview, as well sessions for each cancer type. These break-out panels that are specific to each cancer type will provide a personalized experience for patients and caregivers.
  6. Arm Yourself with Information. You will come away with answers to important questions about treatment options, as well as some ideas for questions you may want to ask your provider. This session is designed to give patients and caregivers the latest information – and empower them to take an active part in their care.

OK, ready to go? Register today!

And if you’re still not convinced, check out the agenda to see the great speaker line up:

Agenda