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.”

 

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

On the Path to Precision Medicine for Melanoma Patients

By Louise M Perkins, PhD
Chief Science Officer

There is no denying the transformative success of new treatments for melanoma ranging from molecularly targeted agents for BRAF-mutant melanoma to immunotherapies like anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD-1 drugs. Indeed, the treatment of BRAF-mutant melanoma is a prime example of Precision Medicine; that is, matching treatments to a patient’s specific disease.

Yet, despite the progress, about half of melanoma patients lack a BRAF mutation and treatment resistance to immunotherapy is far too common. New strategies for these patients cannot come quickly enough.

Expanding Precision Medicine in Practice

Since 2012, the SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team has been working on one such strategy, a Precision Medicine approach – similar to what President Obama advocated just a few months ago – with joint funding by both the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) and Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C).

The first publication describing the pilot phase of the Melanoma Dream Team’s genomically guided therapy study appeared online recently in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. The team piloted its approach to ensure that state-of-the-art genomic information could be produced with biopsies from patients with melanoma that could be useful for treatment decision-making in a timely way. While this idea may sound simple, it is no easy feat, with many real-world logistical and technical challenges.

Teamwork is a key feature in overcoming many of these challenges, including starting and running a complex trial of this sort involving multiple centers and high-tech analyses. But state-of-the-art science is also needed. The team’s cutting-edge sequencing machines and expertise in genomics is critical to produce and analyze the genomic data. This genomic data can help spot tumor-specific mutations that might be susceptible to therapeutic treatment. Together, the teamwork, expertise and technology provide the means to unlock a better understanding of how to offer treatments tailored to the unique genomic features of one’s own tumor.

Sharing Lessons Learned

The important lessons learned in this pilot have already been shared widely in meetings with researchers to speed the startup of similar studies across cancers. And participants from programs like NCI-MATCH and LungMAP have been actively sharing information on this topic, too. It is gratifying to see the Melanoma Dream Team’s programmatic advances disseminated world-wide through this recent publication.

What’s Next?

It is important to ask how well such a Precision Medicine approach works with larger numbers of melanoma patients, as the field continues its efforts to overcome resistance to available treatments and work toward wider adoption of Precision Medicine.

To that end, the Melanoma Dream Team has several sites around the country that are enrolling eligible patients with melanoma who have progressed on (or are ineligible for) approved immunotherapies and who lack a BRAF V600 mutation that would qualify them for molecularly targeted treatments.

Breakthrough Medicine: Highlights from Milken Institute’s Global Conference

Earlier this week, Melanoma Research Alliance Chief Science Officer Louise Perkins, PhD, moderated a panel at the 2015 Milken Institute Global Conference. Titled “Breakthrough Medicine: Will Finding a Cure Be Just the Start of Saving Lives?” the panel featured experts across the medical landscape, from industry to practitioners to insurers. With new therapies showing real promise and a national focus on precision medicine, this is an exciting time for science, yet challenges remain.

“The cost to create breakthrough drugs threatens to break the innovators who develop them, as well as the institutes who pick up the tab to pull them forward,” said Dr. Perkins.

Read more about the panel on the Milken Institute’s Currency of Ideas blog or watch the video.

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, May 17

So much exciting news as we pass the halfway point of Melanoma Awareness Month!

ICYMI we shared our new video highlighting MRA’s collaborative approach to melanoma research and raising awareness.

 

We also shared Jamie’s story as she expressed ‘the reality of “surviving” stage IV melanoma.’

Next Tuesday, May 20, two exciting events will take place:

Finally, here are a few highlights of the melanoma news coverage this week:

10 Things to Know About Melanoma via ABCNews

A bittersweet story about a young mother of two who lost her husband to melanoma when he was only 28 via Delaware State News

A melanoma survivor tells teens to “rock the skin you’re in,” use sunscreen & avoid indoor tanning via WOWT

Blood biomarkers may enhance melanoma detection potentially reducing the need for invasive skin biopsies via MedicalXpress

‘Michelle’s Melanoma Army’ educates teens on skin cancer via The Anniston Star

Encouraging results for nivolumab in hopes of raising survival expectations for advanced melanoma patients via BMS News

 

 

 

Melanoma News Round-Up, February 7

Here’s your dose of recent melanoma news, featuring exciting research advances, survivor stories, and a bracing look into the dangers of tanning beds.

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Researchers Express Need for a Complete Catalog of Cancer Genes via NY Times

David Cameron’s Sister-In-Law Saved from Skin Cancer by Vigilant Mother via Daily Mail

Bob Marley Would Have Celebrated His 69th Birthday This Week via SKNVibes

Tanning Beds Criticized as Skin Cancer Rates Rise via FH Cancer Research Center

In Vivo Discovery of Immunotherapy Targets in Tumor Microenvironment via Nature

Merck & Amgen Begin Collaboration on Advanced Melanoma Research via The Pharma Letter

Skin Cancer Victim Develops Huge Face Tumor from Excessive Tanning via Express