Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustained Medical Innovation

Guest Blog Contributors
Edward Abrahams, Ph.D., President, Personalized Medicine Coalition
Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), Chief Executive Officer, American Association for Cancer Research
Marcia A. Kean, M.B.A., Chairman, Feinstein Kean Healthcare

Turning the Tide Banner

We live in extraordinary times. Over the past decade, advances in science and medicine have transformed our approach to fighting cancer. In many cases, a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, but rather a chronic condition managed through new therapies. Personalized medicines have moved us away from one-size-fits-all, trial-and-error treatment options to more patient-centered cancer research and care. As we continue to learn more about the molecular underpinnings leading to the more than 200 diseases that comprise cancer, we will be able to more effectively prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat these diseases.

But we also live in a time of great economic pressure, where healthcare costs have reached unsustainable levels and our current cost-constrained environment threatens future innovation and our ability to deliver patient-centered cancer care. In 2011, the Personalized Medicine Coalition, American Association for Cancer Research, and Feinstein Kean Healthcare came together to address the challenge of sustaining progress against cancer while facing the economic imperative to reduce healthcare spending. Since the beginnings of the Turning the Tide Against Cancer initiative, we have seen a groundswell of support from across the cancer community for a shift to a more patient-centric, high-value system of cancer research and care. To do so, we must put the right policies in place that will incentivize scientific discovery and medical progress, while addressing rising healthcare costs.

On October 9, we will convene the second Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustained Medical Innovation national conference to hear from the cancer and health policy communities to further define and address these issues, and refine our recommendations to policymakers.

If we are to continue to realize the extraordinary promise of scientific discovery and personalized cancer medicine, we must advance policies that support a more efficient and effective healthcare system. We hope that this conference provides the platform for examining innovative approaches to conducting personalized, patient-centered cancer research; optimizing the processes through which new medical products are evaluated and approved; and implementing care delivery and payment models that deliver high-value, affordable cancer care to patients.

We invite you to join us for the conference on October 9 in Washington, D.C. or online via webcast and #T3Cancer, and to join us in ongoing collaboration so that together, we can advocate for the policy changes that will result in patient-centric, high-value cancer research and care.

Watch these two-minute videos to learn more about:

The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) is proud to sponsor and support the Turning the Tide Against Cancer initiative.  As a contributor to the initiative’s expert working group, MRA’s president and CEO Wendy Selig joined fellow experts in oncology, patient advocacy, and health policy to identify and refine specific policy options that can move us toward a more patient-centric, high-value system of cancer research and care.  Through collaboration with all invested stakeholders, we are working to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and galvanize the field of cancer treatment to benefit all patients.


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!

Innovation Coming to America


Though many people may not have realized it until reading today’s front page Washington Post article, sunscreen products sold in the US are not reflective of the latest innovations and science in understanding how best to protect people against harmful UV rays from the sun.  But it is true – the last time a new sunscreen product was approved for use in the US was in the 1990’s, not because scientists and companies haven’t been innovating, but because applications for approval of new products have been collecting dust on the shelf at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Hopefully, things are about to change for the better.  Last Thursday, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress introduced the Sunscreen Innovation Act to jumpstart the sunscreen ingredient review process at the FDA so the American public can have access to the most innovative, effective sunscreen products.  If the bill moves forward and becomes law, Americans may finally be able to purchase sunscreen products which have been on store shelves for years in Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

For the past two decades, the FDA process for reviewing new sunscreen ingredients has stalled due to needlessly complex regulations.  The resulting backlog has ground the review process to a halt.

Shockingly, the most recent sunscreen ingredient to receive FDA approval dates back to the age of the dial-up modem.

The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) is committed to reducing the toll of melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers.  We routinely urge people to know their risks and take steps to reduce those risks, including avoiding exposure to UV radiation and the damage it causes to the skin.  We have worked to improve the safety and efficacy review of new sunscreen innovations that offer essential protection from hazardous ultraviolet (UV) rays.  As a leading member of the Public Access to Sunscreens (PASS) Coalition, MRA has engaged with Congress and the FDA to address the current standstill in a process that is clearly broken.

The need for the most advanced and effective sunscreen products is clear, especially during a time when the deadliest skin cancer, melanoma, is increasing in prevalence.  Each year more than 9,800 Americans die of melanoma – that’s one person every hour.  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 2 million Americans diagnosed every year.  Exposure to UV rays is a leading cause of melanoma and other skin cancers.

Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays offers incredible benefits, preventing sunburns, skin aging, and reducing your risk of skin cancer.  Experts recommend you protect your skin with the regular usage of sunscreen that is:

1) Broad Spectrum

2) Water Resistant

3) SPF 30 or higher

You can dramatically reduce your risk of skin cancer with the proper use of sunscreen, and hopefully you’ll soon be able to purchase the most cutting-edge sunscreen technologies as Congress, the FDA, the PASS Coalition, and MRA work to enact this bill into law.  Be sure to follow MRA for updates as we track this bill’s progress.

Protecting Melanoma Research Progress in the Midst of Budget Upheaval

By: Wendy Selig, MRA’s President & CEO

A diagnosis of metastatic melanoma launches individuals and their families into an intense maze of frightening statistics, clinical trials and uncertain prognosis.  Here at the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), we are focused on the mission of accelerating the research to bring better options to these patients.hedgemaze

Metastatic melanoma is a deadly disease that generally arises on the skin.  Its incidence is on the rise, tripling in the last three decades.  For too long, this vicious disease has evaded effective therapies; one person dies in the U.S. of melanoma every hour.

The good news is that there is finally real progress in the research, with melanoma now leading the oncology field in potential and novel therapies.  In the last three years, four new drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and several promising new approaches are in late-stage clinical development.  The field of melanoma treatment is changing rapidly, as the “next set of options” has never looked more hopeful.

Yes there is more hope than ever before that we are nearing the day when no one will suffer or die from melanoma.   But we are certainly not there yet. Today’s patients must navigate a complex and intense juggernaut of therapies, uncertain about whether their specific tumors will respond to the newest tools in their oncologists’ arsenal and how long those responses might last.

Only continued medical research can combat the uncertainty that still surrounds melanoma and many other types of cancer; research to help speed current treatments through the clinical trials pipeline and into the hands of patients, research into biomarkers to help better predict which patients will respond well to a particular treatment and what can be done about resistance to therapy once it sets in, and research into entirely new modes of treatment so that patients will not run out of options before they run out of time.

We must have sustained investment of resources and a commitment of focus from the best and brightest minds to ensure that we can expedite more concepts through the clinical development system and through the regulatory process so patients can benefit from the progress.


It’s been stormy skies in Washington for medical research funding

The government shutdown and budget upheaval at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the FDA illustrates the fragility of our current research ecosystem.  The distressing turbulence in Washington has taken a real toll on the melanoma research and clinical care community just at the moment when there are so many remarkable new paths of discovery to pursue.  The role of all stakeholders in this community has never been more vital to the mission of sustaining and accelerating progress for patients.

The MRA engages all of the stakeholders – from individual patients, clinicians and research institutions, to large pharmaceutical companies and small biotech firms, to other like-minded nonprofits, government officials and our corporate allies as we work to deliver better outcomes for patients with melanoma and all who are at risk.  Since 2007, the MRA has provided more than $49 million to researchers working to better prevent, diagnose, and treat melanoma.  These funds have made a real impact in advancing some of today’s most exciting new treatment approaches – including targeted and immune-based therapies.  But even with this level of funding from MRA, the melanoma research ecosystem depends on a vibrant federal commitment, through the NIH and the FDA.

The effects of continued budget disagreements have held medical research funding hostage.  NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins calculates that the 5.5% NIH budget reduction mandated by sequestration coupled with a decade of flat budgets and rising inflation has cut the agency’s purchasing power by 25%.    Due to the Sequester, NIH is funding 650 fewer research grants this year than it did in 2012.  This reduction is having a tangible impact at research universities across the country.  Faced with this trickle of research funding, promising young scientists are packing up their labs and heading to big corporations instead of pursuing careers in academic research.   The Sequester’s full impact on the medical research pipeline could take years to measure.

The recent government shutdown made matters even worse as NIH furloughed 73% of its staff and halted new clinical trial enrollments, keeping even gravely ill patients waiting for access to cutting-edge experimental therapies.  A metastatic melanoma patient from Michigan was told that the potentially lifesaving treatment he’d been expecting to receive at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was not available to new patients during the government shutdown.  While his community rallied around him and managed to get him enrolled, others seeking treatments were forced to wait 16 agonizing days for the government and NIH’s intramural clinical trials to reopen. That is an unacceptable delay, especially in a disease like metastatic melanoma, which is characterized by rapid progression through a patient’s body.

Patient organizations recognize that the responsibility for funding translational research to bring new treatments to patients does not fall solely on the NIH, where it has been subject to political disagreements and Congressional impasses.  Other funders of scientific research, like pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions and patient-led groups like MRA, are working together to build impactful research programs.  For example, MRA has engaged in eight Industry-Academic Partnerships, research awards that are supported by matching funds from our organization and biomedical industry companies.  These collaborations have allowed researchers to test promising devices and treatments for application in the fight against melanoma, leveraging MRA’s resources against those of an industry partner to support the high-impact proposal of an academic researcher or team of researchers.

For organizations like MRA, it all comes back to the people we serve – the patients, their families, and everyone at risk.  All of these people depend on the medical research ecosystem to address the challenges they currently face, to change treatment paradigms and transform lives. As we sit on the cusp of tremendous progress in melanoma and so many disease areas, we must not accept delay and gridlock that threatens people’s lives.