Dateline Chicago: MRA and GRACE Immunotherapy Forum

By Louise M. Perkins, PhD

Immunotherapy Patient Forum collage

Dr. Jedd Wolchok & Rusty Cline, Carlea Bauman & Wendy Selig, Drs. Wolchok, Louise Perkins & Suzanne Topalian, Drs. Michael Atkins, Drew Pardoll & Wolchok

On Sunday October 26, MRA and its partner GRACE (Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education) held a forum for patients/caregivers with melanoma, kidney cancer and lung cancer at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.  Despite the fact that it was a gorgeous day outside—warm and sunny for Chicago in late October—nearly 60 patients/caregivers attended the forum from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.  The meeting format involved a general session with a series of talks followed by a panel discussion centered on questions from the audience. In addition, there was a lunchtime disease-specific breakout for melanoma, kidney cancer or lung cancer.  There was a lot of energy throughout the day and it was gratifying to see a full house for the meeting!

The content reflected the world-class expertise of the presenters who spoke from their various perspectives covering not only the hard-core science behind immunotherapy (Drew Pardoll) but also clinical insights offered by Michael Atkins, Matthew Helmann, Jason Luke, Sumanta Pal, Suzanne Topalian, and Jedd Wolchok.  We were thrilled to also have presentations by Rusty Cline, a Stage IV melanoma patient who told of his experience with the disease and the current success he is having with anti-PD-1 therapy and Marianne Davis, NP who gave a superb description of immunotherapy side-effects and their management.

I had the pleasure of moderating the melanoma session at which Drs. Suzanne Topalian and Jedd Wolchok spoke on what have we learned from clinical studies to date and the future of melanoma immunotherapy.  If you don’t know it, Drs. Topalian and Wolchok are true giants in the field, as well as MRA-funded investigators and strong supporters of MRA.  Dr. Wolchok heads the Melanoma and Immunotherapy Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and has been involved in many ground-breaking clinical programs with anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD-1 drugs for melanoma patients. In addition to her outstanding research on melanoma and immunotherapy biomarkers, Dr. Topalian was my predecessor as MRA’s Chief Science Officer, is chair of our Scientific Advisory Panel and is an MRA Board Member. Whew!  It is awe-inspiring to be with these two and we were honored to have them there to share their insights directly with the melanoma patients in the room.

You may be thinking, “Rats—I wish I could’ve been there!”  Well, stay tuned as the entire meeting was filmed and the video should be available via our website in a few weeks.

Altogether, this was a fantastic meeting and I’ll leave you with just a few comments from the presenters that encapsulate the day. Dr. Matthew Hellman remarked that over a century’s worth of laboratory and clinical research is yielding the first fruits of significant progress in the use of immunotherapy against cancer. As Dr. Drew Pardoll stated, now is the time to re-think how we do cancer research based on major advances in immunotherapy for melanoma, lung and kidney cancers.   And as pointed out by Dr. Wolchok, this success with immunotherapy is just the beginning of the end.  We couldn’t agree more.  Let’s just make sure we keep pushing to get to the end as soon as possible.

About the Author

Louise Perkins HeadshotLouise M. Perkins, Ph.D., joined the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) as Chief Science Officer in 2013 where she is responsible for the development and implementation of MRA’s scientific strategy.  Her interests center on translational research with specific concentration on genomics, drug discovery and the advancement of novel therapeutic approaches. Prior to joining MRA, she was Chief Scientific Officer at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for five years following a research career of 16 years at two major pharmaceutical companies.

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.