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.

Cancer’s Week in the Spotlight

Cancer has been in the news a lot this week. We learned that two pop-culture artists – David Bowie and Alan Rickman – lost their battles with cancer. It’s a stark contrast to the news we heard last month about President Jimmy Carter, who has had a positive treatment response to his melanoma, according to news reports.

As MRA’s founder, Debra Black, and President and CEO-Elect, Robin Davisson, penned in USA Today recently, the number of new treatments available for patients like Mr. Carter has grown rapidly in the last few years. And therapies that have been pioneered in melanoma are showing benefit for many other types of cancer. But there is no time for complacency.

While we don’t know details about the cancers that took the lives of Bowie and Rickman, their deaths underscore the breadth and devastation of this disease. They also highlight the need to focus our resources and collective efforts to address cancer.

But even factoring in optimistic expectations, experts agree that we are nowhere near curing or conquering this disease for all patients. The ongoing need for research is still extremely compelling. – Debra Black and Robin Davisson, in USA Today

On Tuesday, in the State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new initiative to coordinate national efforts to fight cancer. Vice President Biden, who lost his son to cancer last year, will spearhead the effort, Moonshot Initiative to Cure Cancer, which he explains on Medium.

While the goals are lofty and there won’t be one cure-all for cancer, many organizations have come out in support of this effort, including the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. As President Obama said in his State of the Union Speech: “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

 

The Latest in Melanoma Research: News from the Two Biggest Cancer Meetings

By Louise Perkins, PhD
Chief Science Officer

There’s been a lot of news on melanoma treatments in the last couple of weeks coming out of the two largest cancer conferences held each year: the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meetings. The results – particularly in the area of immunotherapy – really are exciting for the field of melanoma and cancer, at large.  On the Diane Rehm Show this week, melanoma was described as the “poster child for immunotherapy,” which it certainly has been.

So what’s new, and what does it mean now and for the near future?

Melanoma drugs circa 2014

In September and December 2014, two new melanoma treatments were approved by the FDA for advanced metastatic melanoma. These are the anti-PD-1 drugs pembrolizumab (pembro, Keytruda®) and nivolumab (nivo, Opdivo®). Pembro and nivo release the so-called “brakes” on the immune system, to help the body’s own immune system fight cancer. Another drug, ipilimumab (ipi, Yervoy®), is an anti-CTLA-4 drug and was FDA-approved in 2011.  Check out our video that describes how these immunotherapies work.

The latest news from early 2015
Researchers have been trying to answer a few important questions about these new immunotherapies, such as:

  1. Is anti-PD-1 (pembro, nivo) treatment better than anti-CTLA-4 (ipi) in patients who have not had any prior therapy?
  2. Do anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 in combination work even better than either treatment alone for patients who have not had any prior therapy?

MRA-funded investigator Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, and colleagues addressed the latter question in a Phase 3 trial at ASCO. The study involved more than 900 previously untreated metastatic melanoma patients and compared three different therapies:

  1. Ipi alone
  2. Nivo alone
  3. Ipi and nivo in combination

They found that nivo either alone or in combination with ipi had better results for patients than ipi alone.

This is similar to what was reported at AACR by Antoni Ribas, MD, in a Phase 3 study of the other anti-PD-1 drug pembro, which showed that pembro was better than ipi in previously untreated patients.  More trials are underway to confirm whether or not the combination allows patients to live longer (overall survival) versus single-agent therapy.

One important piece to note is that recent studies found that the increased benefit of the combination also comes with increased side effects; in fact, approximately one-third of patients discontinued therapy due to side effects.

At ASCO, Michael Atkins, MD, summarized these clinical findings that have been presented over recent months:

  • Nivolumab is better than ipilimumab alone
  • Pembrolizumab is better than ipilimumab alone
  • Nivolumab and ipilimumab in combination are better than ipilimumab alone

What does this mean for melanoma patients?

Believe it or not, things are moving amazingly fast. So what does all of this mean for patients in June 2015, just 9 months after the first anti-PD1 treatment was approved by FDA?  Well, one leading cancer guideline group, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, already updated its melanoma treatment guidelines in March to recommend that oncologists consider a single-agent anti-PD1 (either nivo or pembro) as first line treatment for advanced metastatic melanoma patients (pembro and nivo were FDA approved for patients who have progressed on prior therapies).

More research is needed to determine if and when and for which patients the combination of anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 should be used.

Partners in Prevention: MRA and The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer

Two years ago, the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) met with Dr. Howard Koh, the Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and asked the question that launched a milestone project to elevate melanoma and skin cancer on the agenda for public health: “How can MRA do more in partnership with government health agencies in the fight against skin cancer and melanoma?”

SG Call to Action - Lushniak Koh Selig

Dr. Howard Koh, Wendy Selig and Dr. Boris Lushniak

With his medical background in oncology and dermatology, Dr. Koh needed no convincing about the importance of this cause given the dangers of skin cancer and the public health imperative for a coordinated national prevention strategy. To catalyze development of a national health agenda in the fight against skin cancer and melanoma, Dr. Koh and MRA convened a meeting of the leaders of all the relevant agencies within the U.S. Public Health Service, including the Office of the Surgeon General, the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Government officials, medical experts, researchers, and thought leaders joined together 22 months ago for this important gathering and an incredible effort of collaboration began.

Fast forward to July 2014: yesterday with MRA’s President & CEO Wendy Selig in the front row, Dr. Koh and Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak, himself a dermatologist, unveiled The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. The Call to Action seeks to engage all levels of government as well as individuals, private sector institutions and organizations in a coordinated, multifaceted effort to prevent skin cancer.

The Call to Action is the most recent and final achievement in Dr. Howard Koh’s five years as a public servant before he returns to the faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health. MRA thanks Dr. Koh for his tireless work, leadership and advocacy of disease prevention and is honored to be recognized by him as one of the leading “partners in prevention” to instigate a national public health agenda to fight skin cancer and melanoma.

The Surgeon General has sounded the call for the nation to join together to fight this terrible but preventable cancer. The time for action is now.  Join us in the fight against skin cancer and melanoma!

Melanoma News Round-Up, July 12

Hello everyone! We’re back to bring you the news highlights for all things melanoma and MRA.

JCrew 1

In celebration of UV Safety Month this July, J.Crew will donate $1 to MRA for every Instagram upload showing how you cover up and have fun in the sun.  Just tag it #JCrewSmartSun and help win donations for MRA.  Thanks to the generosity of our founders, 100% of funds raised will go directly toward melanoma research.  Stay sunsafe and help fund cutting-edge research – it’s a win-win!

This week marked game-changing progress for melanoma treatment as regulators in Japan granted the world’s 1st approval of the anti-PD-1 drug, nivolumab.  News also broke that Bristol-Myers Squibb will be seeking FDA approval of nivolumab, making this breakthrough immunotherapy available in the United States months ahead of schedule.

MRA also hailed the launch of an Expanded Access Program for advanced melanoma patients to receive a combination therapy of ipilimumab and nivolumab.  This method of combination therapy has shown promising results for late-stage melanoma patients.

On the prevention front, MRA is delighted to report Hawaii became the 10th state to ban indoor tanning for minors under 18 years of age.  There is much more work to be done to reduce everyone’s risk for skin cancer and melanoma, but the passage of this bill is a step in the right direction.

You don’t want to miss this great interview on the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer with dermatologist, Dr. Mitchell Kline, by legendary PIX11 broadcaster, Marvin Scott.

GENlogoCMYK_092313Finally, we’re proud to share that MRA was ranked the #1 Grant-Giving Disease Foundation by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN).  As always, we are dedicated to finding a cure for melanoma and working toward a day when no one will suffer or die from this disease.

 

Melanoma News Round-Up, June 21

Hello everyone!  We hope you had a wonderful week and you’ve been staying sun safe.  Here are a few highlights to share with you:

High school students created melanoma awareness videos to warn their peers about the dangers of melanoma as part of the Jeff Dulude Melanoma Foundation & Edgemaker’s Defeat Melanoma PSA contest.  We think you’ll agree that the results are powerful and moving.

 

Top 30 Grant-Giving Disease Foundations via GEN (Spoiler: MRA is #1)

More Arrows in the Arsenal: dramatic advacenments in Immunotherapy offer news options for patients with melanoma via John Hopkins Medicine

What’s the Best Sunscreen For You via U.S. World News & Report

Balloons raise money for melanoma sufferer via The Examiner

Sunscreen alone not enough to protect against melanoma via Medical News Today

Checkpoint agents are shifting paradigms toward immunotherapy via OncLive

Cancer survivor continues to fight via Livingston Daily

Tales from ASCO: The future of cancer research via Philly.com

Best not to fool around with the sun gods via Dallas Morning News

 

Melanoma News Round-Up, June 14

Hello everyone!  Summer is in full swing and we have a fantastic video to share with you on the incredible promise of immunotherapy for melanoma treatment.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JGn1nJNm98]

 

And here’s the latest blast of melanoma news!

Tales from ASCO: Q&A with MRA’s Chief Science Officer Louise Perkins via Philly.com

New drugs target patient as well as disease, but who will pay? via Daily Herald

Nature study by MRA-supported researcher reveals need for multiple forms of sun protection via BBC News

Skin cancer drug that can extend patient’s life recommended for use on NHS via Telegraph

Immunotherapy Today: The View from ASCO via Cancer Research

What type of sunscreen is best? via Wall Street Journal