MRA staff has been traveling the globe for the past couple weeks, from London, to Denver to other exotic locales. Our Chief Scientific Officer attended the annual meeting of the European Cancer Congress (ECC) in Amsterdam, while our communications and policy staff spent the past two days at the BIO Patient and Health Advocacy Summit down the street in DC. These two events have given us a lot of updates on the progress of melanoma research, as well as the trends around patient engagement in the drug development process. We wanted to take a minute to share some of the highlights with you:
Immunotherapies and combinatorial approaches to treating cancer, and melanoma specifically, were front and center at the ECC meeting, Europe’s main oncology meeting. Significant data was released on several different approaches to treating melanoma. Suzanne Topalian, MD, Johns Hopkins University, and Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) Scientific Advisory Panel Chair, delivered the meeting’s opening lecture, titled “Mobilising the Immune System to Treating Cancer.” Multiple MRA-funded investigators presented research and led sessions during the conference.
Exciting findings presented at this year’s meeting included results from a long-term follow up study of patients treated with ipilimumab (Yervoy), which was approved for the treatment of metastatic melanoma in the U.S. in 2011. The study, presented by MRA-funded investigator Dr. Stephen Hodi of Harvard Medical School, found that 22% of patients studied who were treated with Yervoy exhibited a durable response, and were still alive after three years on the treatment. While these results are positive news in the battle against melanoma, work must continue, as the majority of melanoma patients do not exhibit this type of positive, sustained response.
Other melanoma highlights from the meeting included additional encouraging data on combinatorial approaches to treating melanoma—including BRAF inhibitors in combination with MEK inhibitors—data on improved methods of predicting a treatment’s efficacy from early readouts in clinical trials, as well as further insight into the genetics behind melanoma and the differences between subtypes of the disease. These advances hold the potential to make melanoma drug development more efficient, and to produce more effective treatments for patients more quickly.
The findings from the meeting are encouraging, but underscore the importance of continued research into melanoma. The BIO Patient and Health Advocacy Summit focused on how patient advocacy organizations like MRA can make an impact on medical research. The meeting highlighted industry best practices in patient-centered drug development and provided real-life examples of similar non-profits helping to find and develop new treatments for life-threatening diseases.
A speaker from Eli Lilly’s Clinical Open Innovation team stressed that the time has never been better for patient involvement in every step of drug development. The rise of online patient communities, data sharing and tools to empower patients has ushered in many new opportunities for innovation and collaboration.
Biotechnology company Genentech shared one of their current data collection campaigns to illustrate this point: Searching for genetic answers about why a drug works in some people and not others, the company is encouraging people who have taken the drug for several types of cancers to participate in a study with the health and DNA service company 23andMe. Qualified patients send a vial of their spit into 23andMe, and then the companies will jointly analyze the results. The study has been promoted primarily on social media and through online patient communities, and is one of the first studies that people can participate in from the comfort of their own homes. Check out this viral video encouraging participation the study:
Patient advocacy groups have also been stretching their wings lately. Industry group BayBio and FasterCures recently conducted a study that found that almost 90% of disease groups like MRA already have at least one partnership with companies in the industry. At last count, MRA has more than 10 research awards co-funded by industry. With research picking up in the melanoma space and more than 85% of biopharma companies looking to increase their alliances with patient groups, we are excited for the collaborations the future will bring.