MRA Partner Feature: Neiman Marcus

By Regina Campbell

This week, we’re featuring a guest post from Regina Campbell, who is Director of Social Media for Neiman Marcus. Read more.

For some, skincare can be an afterthought. Of all the items on our to-do lists, applying SPF may not be at the top. The chaos of life often distracts us from the one thing we at Neiman Marcus consider most important—our personal health. Cancer has affected many of us in one way or another, and it’s up to us to protect ourselves as best we can.

Recently there have been tremendous advances in melanoma research, from increased attention to the disease to improved treatment options. Neiman Marcus is honored to be a part of this process, having partnered with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) to increase awareness and fund research to help reduce the risk of melanoma.

Although genetics and increasing age can be risk factors for melanoma, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is a major risk factor for the disease. According to the MRA, melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosis in women ages 25-29 years old.

Neiman Marcus’ wide assortment of products includes many brands that strive to incorporate agents that help protect the skin from the sun for women of all ages. In fact, during June we are partnering with companies that are generously donating 10% of net proceeds of select suncare product sales to support the MRA.

But it’s not just beauty products that help shield the sun. Swimwear brand Cover addresses the need for fashionable and protective T-shirts and cover-ups for women to wear in the sun. Founder Lisa Moore launched Cover in 2008, just two years before her 22-year-old sister was diagnosed with melanoma. Since then, the line has made health a priority.

It’s increasingly important for women of all ages to understand their family history with cancer, be persistent with regular health exams, and help protect one’s skin from external harm such as the sun.

Despite the advancements made in fighting melanoma, we must still acknowledge the long road ahead. Many still downplay the seriousness of the disease with the assumption that it’s easy to treat. As someone who has a family history of skin cancer, I’m vigilant about making frequent visits to the dermatologist. Considering my personal experience with the disease, I urge all women to do the same.

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A Daughter Reflects on Her Father’s Battle with Melanoma

By Samantha Stinchcomb

This week, we feature a guest post by Samantha Stinchcomb, a student at the University of Delaware. When her father succumbed to melanoma, Samantha and her family and friends founded the Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation to raise money for melanoma research and to educate her local community about the disease and the importance of early detection.

Big Orange photo

Samantha with her dad, Wayne

At 13, while most girls were picking out a dress to wear to the 8th grade dance, I was busy picking out a quote for my dad’s tombstone. After 3 years full of long doctor appointments, harsh experimental treatments, extended hospital stays, little good news, lots of bad news, and hours of prayer, my father had lost his battle to melanoma.

It began in 2007 when my mom noticed a suspicious mole on my dad’s back. Starting with the initial dermatologist visit, my parents were always open and honest with my brother and me about what was happening. I can remember every single conversation we had after each doctor appointment or hospital visit. They tried to explain things as clearly as they could, but being only 13, I had a hard time understanding everything. In the beginning, it all seemed so simple: remove the mole and the cancer would be gone. I never expected we’d still be having those conversations three years later.

I specifically remember talking with my parents after they learned about immunotherapy. Considering I was struggling in my 8th grade science class, I didn’t really understand the concept. My mom tried to explain by comparing it to Pac-Man. She said the cells made in the lab would “eat away” at my dad’s tumors. It was our final option and, even though it was another experimental treatment, we had to have faith and pray it would work.

Initially, the treatment was going well. My once bed-ridden father, so weak he was only recognizable by his beaming smile, was becoming himself again. He was eating regularly, laughing a lot, and even leading my basketball team all the way to the championships as our coach. Christmas of 2009, my father had been declared three months No Evidence of Disease (NED) and my family couldn’t be happier.

However, just 10 short days later, our life got flipped upside down once more. My parents came home from a check-up completely silent. No one spoke but no one needed to; it was understood. The immunotherapy had been unsuccessful and the melanoma was beginning to attack other organs in my dad’s body. We were out of options and there was nothing else we could do. Three months later, at 12:37 am on April 27, 2010, I lost my father to melanoma.

Although not a day goes by where I don’t miss him, I now smile instead of cry because I know God chose my father for a reason. God knew who my father was, how many lives he touched in his short time here, and what those people were capable of. My parents’ friends founded the Wayne Stinchcomb Big Orange Foundation and has turned our tragedy into something amazing. Since Big Orange’s founding in 2010, there have been 11 new approved treatment options for melanoma, which we like to attribute in part to the $85,000 we’ve raised and donated to Melanoma Research Alliance. In addition to the funds we’ve raised, our advocacy and my father’s story has influenced many to get their skin checked and catch precancerous cells early.

People always say to me, “If only your father was diagnosed just one year later, he would’ve had treatment options,” but I don’t think about it like that. My dad was always the first one to try something new and the last one to give up. Whatever he did in life, he had to do it big and this rings true even for his battle with melanoma. The way I see it, my dad is one of the reasons all of these treatment options exist in the first place. Because of his journey and experiences with novel treatments, someone, somewhere is singing their daughter to sleep, kissing their wife goodnight, and waking up to a new day because they now have options when facing the monster that is melanoma.

A Conversation with Board Member Jami Gertz

We’re featuring an interview with MRA Board Member and actress Jami Gertz on our blog. This was repurposed, with permission, from the blog of our partners at Neiman Marcus

JAMI GERTZNM: How did you get involved with Melanoma Research Alliance?
JG: My sister-in-law, Debra Black, founded Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) with her husband Leon, after her personal battle with melanoma. During the early days after her diagnosis, we were all shocked to learn just how few treatments were available – and how little progress had been made over the years. Debra and Leon’s passion for advancing treatment options for melanoma patients led to the creation of MRA. I’m so proud of Debra and thrilled to be a board member.

NM: What are the greatest challenges that MRA faces with the rise of melanoma and the survival for those with advanced disease remaining static?
JG: There have been tremendous advances in treatment for melanoma in the last five years, including many new FDA-approved drugs. There has also been a lot of media attention about immunotherapy and personalized medicine for cancer treatment, which is really fantastic. But there is still a lot that we do not understand about why certain treatments work for some people and not for others. We have to keep working to ensure that we’re doing the best we can for patients with this terrible disease.

NM: How is MRA addressing these challenges?
JG: What’s unique about MRA is that thanks to Debra and Leon’s ongoing support, 100% of donations go directly to research. MRA has provided more than $60 million for melanoma research worldwide. The organization fosters collaboration among multiple stakeholders, bringing together researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, foundations, donors and patients to help accelerate progress toward finding treatments and hopefully a cure.

NM: Describe some of the ways in which we can protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging rays?
JG: One of the easiest things we can do is to wear sunscreen every day. It should be part of your daily routine, all year round. It’s also good to cover up with hats, UPF clothing and sunglasses. Fortunately, there are many new brands that are blending fashion and sun safety quite well.

NM: How has social media affected public awareness of melanoma?
JG: Social media can be an agent for good, and it plays an important part in melanoma awareness because melanoma is the second most common cancer among young men and women. My hope is that we can continue to share information about the dangers of melanoma so that everyone knows how important prevention and early detection are for survival.

NM: What is the biggest misconception about melanoma?
JG: I think people have a tendency to downplay the seriousness of melanoma and think it can be easily treated. While other types of skin cancers have lower death rates, melanoma is very serious and has the highest death rate of all skin cancers. And while genetics may increase your chances of getting melanoma, we know that exposure to UV rays is a major risk factor for this disease.

NM: How can we improve early detection?
JG: One way we can improve early detection is to really know your skin. Perform monthly skin checks to look for changes to your moles or freckles. If you’re familiar with your skin, you’re more likely to spot a change early.

NM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work with MRA?
JG: MRA is truly making a difference for people with melanoma. In the last five years, there have been eight drugs approved for melanoma treatment, which is more than in the previous 30 years combined. It’s providing hope for patients with melanoma, and it’s also showing promise for patients with other types of cancers.

NM: What motivates you to continue to fight for this cause?
JG: My sister-in-law courageously battled melanoma and has poured so much of her time and resources into this very personal cause. She is my biggest motivation.

NM: I hope to one day…
JG: Live to see a time when we have found a cure for everyone suffering from melanoma.

Why #ItsTHATWorthIt to Me to Protect My Skin

By Lauren Leiman
Senior Director, Marketing and Development

This summer, L’Oréal Paris, in partnership with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), is asking women everywhere to demonstrate why it’s imperative to protect their skin, beauty, and life through the #ItsTHATWorthIt social media campaign. To help kick off the campaign, L’Oréal hosted two events – one in Los Angeles and one in Miami – attended by celebrities, influential bloggers, and those affected by melanoma. I had the pleasure of representing MRA at these recent events.

MRA's Lauren Leiman and Diane Keaton.

MRA’s Lauren Leiman and Diane Keaton.

I sat alongside L’Oréal spokeswomen and actresses, Diane Keaton and Génesis Rodríguez, as well as celebrity aesthetician Vanessa Hernandez, dermatologist Flor Mayoral, and L’Oréal executives Danielle Macaluso and Malena Higuera. Diane and Génesis shared their personal experiences with skin cancer and how their encounters with the disease have positively impacted their daily beauty and health regimens. We discussed the importance of raising awareness of melanoma and ways to prevent the disease, such as wearing sunscreen every day.

Melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in women 25-29 years old, and for Latinos, rates have risen about 20 percent in the last 20 years. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information last week showing that the number of cases of melanoma has doubled in the last 30 years, and it is predicted cases will continue to rise over the next 15 years.

Now more than ever, #ItsTHATWorthIt to help spread the word about the dangers of melanoma – and how you can protect yourself!

In addition to generating awareness, the #ItsTHATWorthIt program also raises funding to support year three of the L’Oréal Paris-MRA Team Science Award, which explores the origins of melanoma, including the disease’s development and progression. For every social share now through Labor Day, L’Oréal Paris will donate $1 to MRA to fund the L’Oréal Paris – MRA Team Science Award, up to $250,000 in 2015.

The audience at the Miami #ItsThatWorthIt event.

The audience at the Miami #ItsThatWorthIt event.

Here is how to participate in the #It’sTHATWorthIt campaign:

  1. Create a 15 second video or photo sharing with your social community why SPF protection or using sunless tanner is worth it to you.
  2. Share the video or photo via Insta-video/Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter with hashtag #ItsTHATWorthIt
  3. Get your unique social media community involved by tagging three friends in your post.

Check out some of our videos on Instagram!

Don’t use social media? L’Oréal is also donating $1 from sales of select SPF and sunless tanning products now through December 31, 2015.

Partners like L’Oréal help to spread awareness about the reality of melanoma and why prevention is critical, and it also helps MRA to further our mission of ending death and suffering from melanoma by supporting research.

Through the support of our partners like L’Oréal and you, we can help prevent and find meaningful cures for melanoma. Please join us and share why #ItsTHATWorthIt to you.

Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma Raises $1.6 Million for Melanoma Research

By Jennifer Engel
Development Manager, Foundations and Campaigns

LFFM blog pic

On May 19, the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) took over Rockefeller Center for its Fourth Annual Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma (LFFM) cocktail event.  As a customary kick-off to summer, industry executives gathered to raise funds for melanoma research and learn about the importance of early detection and sun safety.

The 2015 LFFM event raised a record $1.6 million for MRA’s research programs, bringing the total amount generated since the event’s inception to more than $5 million. Specifically, the funds raised from the 2015 LFFM event will provide support for four new MRA research awards in the areas of targeted and immunotherapy treatments.  These projects address critical research questions to advance the development of new therapies for melanoma patients and inform our understanding of cancer more broadly.

With men twice as likely to die from melanoma, the leveraged finance industry is a great way to reach men and remind them to protect themselves and their loved ones from the sun’s harmful rays. Guests perused sun-safety merchandise from MRA’s corporate partners to raise additional dollars and also signed up for the annual skin check pledge.

We are so thankful to all the incredible LFFM sponsors and supporters. To learn more about the LFFM event or request to be added to the 2016 invitation list, please email JEngel@curemelanoma.org.

About The Author

Jennifer Engel is the Development Manager, Foundations and Campaigns for the Melanoma Research Alliance.

A Patient’s Take on MRA’s Scientific Retreat

Melanoma patient and blogger T.J. Sharpe attended the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat last month. While the retreat is primarily intended as a way for doctors and researchers to share the latest information on melanoma research, we try to include patients, foundations, families and others who care about melanoma. T.J.’s blog post offers a unique look at the retreat, from a patient’s perspective.  

Melanoma Patient T.J. Sharpe at MRA

Patient T.J. Sharpe at the Melanoma Research Alliance Scientific Retreat

Top 10 melanoma buzzwords from the Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat

1. Momentum

Melanoma is leading the way on the crest of the immunotherapy treatments. I couldn’t get an active number of melanoma clinical trials involving immunotherapies, but it’s in the double digits (unfortunately, many – like mine – are already closed to new participants). Counting targeted therapies and combination trials pushes that number higher. These researchers really are at the cutting edge of oncology.

It’s not just melanoma that benefits, either. Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s anti-PD-1 Opdivo gained expanded approval to treat Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). In the last year, Opdivo received breakthrough designation for Hodgkin lymphoma, and Merck’s Keytruda got the same for NSCLC. Related, Genetech’s PD-L1 drug MPDL3280A, which operates similarly to PD-1, was given breakthrough status for NSCLC after already being granting it for bladder cancer.

2. Progress

The very first presentation opened up with the question, “When do we get to stop comparing to chemotherapy?” With six approved targeted immunotherapies in the last four years (plus one combination), the question probably should be “Why are we even using chemotherapy anymore?”  Between the existing approvals and the pipeline of clinical trials using combinations and/or new drugs, chemotherapy should be a thing of the past for nearly all melanoma patients by the MRA’s 10th Scientific Retreat in 2018.

3. Collaboration

The entire conference – heck, most of the HOTEL – was focused on sharing trial data and its implications. The 250 attendees were made up of about 70 percent researchers, and side conversations were rarely about anything BUT melanoma. I got in a word about German Shepherds to one oncologist, whose wife breeds them and gave one to a college friend. Otherwise, this was all about rustling the coats out of the labs and into a room to share, converse and question. There was even a little spirited ad-hoc “discussion” over BRAF during one of the Q&A sessions – it was somewhat humorous to hear biochemistry being hotly debated (even if you don’t understand either side). This is how treatments, and cures, get accelerated.

4. Ecosystem

Among its multiple references at the retreat, this was brought up in discussions connecting skin cancer prevention, earlier skin cancer detection, and treatments addressing melanomas before they reach the critical metastatic phase. There was an entire panel devoted to prevention and early detection, which may not have the scientific splash of “curing cancer” but is by far the most effective treatment.

Yervoy, the first immunotherapy to make a big splash, is now being considered by the FDA as an adjuvant treatment of Stage 3 melanomas that have been surgically removed. (An adjuvant is given after an initial treatment, such as surgery or radiation, has removed detectable cancer.) This is great news, as stage 3 patients are at a high risk for recurrence but have limited treatment options until they are reclassified as Stage 4.

5. Urgency

There was a common theme of “not being satisfied with good enough”, speaking in terms of both science and regulation. It isn’t enough that new drugs show improvement; work will continue until melanoma is eradicated. Nor are the headlines generated by recent breakthroughs sufficient, when there are still patients worldwide with limited knowledge or access to the best treatments. As an example of urgency meeting progress, Keytruda is now available in the UK in their Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS), allowing British patients to access the medicine even before U.K. regulatory approval.

6. Complexity

There is the targeting of co-stimulator pathways like ICOS, 41BB, CTLA-4; LAG3, BTLA checkpoint inhibitors; and PI3K mechanisms, JAK1 and RNF125 binds were all discussed. Complex enough, or do you want examples?   These guys are S-M-A-R-T.

7. Brilliance

See above.

8. Combinations

Targeted combinations were presented, including potential additions to the toolbox of BRAF and MEK inhibitor drugs. UCLA researchers recently uncovered how melanoma eventually resists these targeted therapies, by developing genetic changes in certain cancer genes. Reversing these changes or shutting them off completely with a new drug/new combination would delay or even eliminate the resistance that occurs in most targeted therapy patients.

Priority review has also recently been granted for the combination of Genetech BRAF drugs cobimetinib and vemurafenib (Zelboraf). Combinations have been a hot topic since last year’s ASCO “Melanoma Monday” campaign presented initial data on several studies that showed extremely strong responses to multiple therapies.

9. Determination

Getting a new cancer drug to market isn’t just dropping a bunch of tumor cells inside a lab rat and seeing which compounds work best (there was one discussion that even concluded with “So now we should see what happens in human patients…”). This takes hours and hours per day, days and days per month, then months and months over years just to get a chance to utter that line. Finding the molecular needle in the haystack is more than divide and conquer, too. There is a special kind of dedication that goes into the extended search for a cure – one that spans entire careers building knowledge and experience looking for that breakthrough moment.

10. Hope

All the acronyms, molecular-this and pathway-that process into one conclusion: There are a significant number of irons in the melanoma fire, many having startling efficacy. These forward-looking presentations provide the one thing all cancer patients cling to – the hope of being one of the “lucky” ones whose biology happens to respond to available treatments. Research is finding long-term survival plateaus around year 3 for Yervoy patients, and this rate holds steady going out many years.

Jim Allison closed the retreat down with the observation that those long-term survivors are dying of something other than melanoma. The momentum of current progress, the urgency of collaboration, and the brilliant combinations of the complex treatment ecosystems has given me hope and determination to prove Dr. Allison right. Dying of old age would be a happy ending to this blog, wouldn’t it?

This blog post originally appeared on Philly.com. Read the original post.

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.