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.

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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

Melanoma News Round-Up, May 31

Today is the last day of Melanoma Awareness Month and what a ride it’s been!  Thank you to all of our allies and everyone who dedicated their efforts to raising awareness of melanoma and offering support to fund melanoma research.

MRA is delighted to share our brand new video featuring our world-class research program. We’re incredibly proud of our impact on melanoma research, providing $120 million through grants and leveraged funding to accelerate scientific discovery and its translation. Watch the video and learn how we do it!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X9Q-uNWnQI]

 

From May 30 to June 3, MRA is attending the American Society of Clinical Oncology‘s (ASCO) 50th annual meeting in Chicago and ASCO is all abuzz about immunotherapies and melanoma treatment.  To learn more about immunotherapy treatments, check out these articles:

New drugs aid in the fight against melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer via Miami Herald

Immune Therapy’s Cancer Promise Creates Research Rush via Bloomberg

Advances in Melanoma Treatment Prolonging Lives via Boston Globe

This Thursday, the FDA announced it will now require warning labels on tanning beds.  This black-box warning will state that sunlamps in tanning salons should not be used by persons under 18.  This marks another incredible advancement in melanoma prevention policy, in addition to Minnesota and Louisiana announcing legislation banning minors from tanning bed use.

Nine states total have instituted under-18 bans for indoor tanning to address the alarming incidence of melanoma in young people.  Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer people aged 15-29.  A recent study shows that indoor tanning increases your risk of melanoma, even if you don’t burn, because “tanning is a biological response to damage to the DNA […] and you’re going to get that [ultraviolet light] damage in a tanning booth whether or not you burn.”

To address this health risk to young people, the Jeff Dulude Melanoma Foundation and Edgemakers are inviting teenagers to help create a PSA to warn their peers about the dangers of melanoma and how to prevent it.  Learn more about the contest here.

Finally, we would like to share this story about a melanoma survivor who has dedicated himself to supporting other melanoma patients.

 

 

New Melanoma Therapies Approved

girl jumping and cheering

© Ladyminnie | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

These are the best types of posts to write:  On Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two genetically-targeted melanoma therapies as well as a companion diagnostic test that will be used to determine which patients’ tumors carry the specific genetic mutations the treatments target.  GlaxoSmithKline’s Tafinlar (dabrafenib) and Mekinist (trametinib) are designed for patients whose tumors express different types of BRAF mutations, mutations present in approximately half of all melanoma tumors.

The approvals mark a milestone in the fight against melanoma, expanding the arsenal of new weapons available to patients and their doctors from two to four, and highlighting the extraordinary progress being made in the melanoma research field. With one person diagnosed with melanoma every eight minutes in the U.S., one person dying every hour, and incidence rising at an alarming rate, new melanoma treatments are urgently needed.

MRA’s scientific team is headed off to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting this weekend in Chicago.  We expect more exciting melanoma research news will come out during the meeting, building on the tremendous momentum in the field.  Researchers, clinicians and industry leaders are exploring multiple genetically-targeted, immunotherapeutic and combinatorial approaches to combat melanoma, and the dramatic acceleration of the pace of discovery in melanoma is also fueling progress in other types of cancer, making melanoma a “case study” for new approaches to therapy.  You can follow all of the melanoma news coming out of ASCO by going to MRA’s Melanoma at ASCO Portal.

We are thrilled with these new treatment options, and hope to have many exciting days ahead in the battle against melanoma.

-Wendy

Melanoma News Round-Up May 24, 2013

newspapers2

Lots of MRA and melanoma news came out this past week; here are some highlights:

Melanoma News

Skin Cancer Strikes Men Differently

Human Immune-Boosting Cancer Drugs Seen Extending Lives

Melanoma Treatment Harnesses Immune System to Combat Cancer Cells

ASCO ’13 Preview: New ‘Anti-PD-1’ Therapies Shrink Tumors

My “truly remarkable” cancer breakthrough

Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma

Scene Last Night: MoMA, 92Y and Melanoma Research Parties

Wall Street’s A-List Turns Out to Fight Skin Cancer

Private Equity Industry Fights Melanoma