By Louise M. Perkins, PhD
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 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.