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.


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 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.



Looking Back on 2013

2013-written-in-the-sandFrom everyone here at the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), we wish you a healthy and happy holiday season and extend our heartfelt gratitude for an amazing year of progress and collaboration. We are so thankful for the tremendous support we received this year from so many people who share our passion for defeating melanoma. Every year at this time we reflect on the preceding 12 months with admiration for the extraordinary efforts of the researchers, scientists, clinicians, and patients working together to accelerate better treatments and, ultimately, cures for this devastating disease.

And 2013 did not disappoint in terms of bringing significant progress! Over the course of the year, the FDA approved two new therapies for metastatic melanoma, a landmark study was published showing remarkable long-term survival trends for an existing melanoma treatment, and many companies released promising new data on their clinical-stage compounds, demonstrating great promise in the next generation of melanoma therapies.

Excitement within the melanoma research and patient communities continues to grow as more late-stage patients finally see effective treatment options. Even while celebrating this progress for patients and their families, as well as everyone at risk for melanoma, MRA remains hard at work helping to translate and build upon these exciting scientific discoveries. We are committed to working with all stakeholders to defeat melanoma, from our donors, to our allies, to industry partners and government leaders.

Here are just a few of MRA’s 2013 highlights as we wage this fight:

  • We awarded a record total of $10.6 million in high-impact research grants, bringing our cumulative grant-making total to more than $49 million for 118 research projects worldwide.
  • Our best-ever Annual Scientific Retreat brought together leaders from across industry, government, and advocacy for an intense, interactive meeting aimed at galvanizing the field of melanoma research.
  • We launched a pioneering collaboration with L’Oréal Paris that includes their generous support for an MRA Team Science Award and a multi-media campaign to increase awareness and education about melanoma.
  • MRA held several record-breaking fundraising events, including the Second Annual Leveraged Finance Fights Melanoma event, as well as our Third Benefit Dinner at Sotheby’s New York, which together raised well over $7 million, all of which is being used to support our game-changing research program.
  • With leadership from MRA, the Office of the Surgeon General and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint Call to Action on the prevention of skin cancer through the reduction of ultraviolet (UV) exposure. This collaboration recognizes skin cancer and melanoma as public health concerns and is the first step toward establishing a nationwide public health agenda aimed at defeating melanoma.

With all of this progress on multiple fronts, we believe the next year holds great promise in the battle against this disease. Your continued support is critical to our ability to capitalize on the growing momentum in the field. Thank you for helping to generate unprecedented support in 2013, and for your continued friendship and support of MRA and our transformative research program as we all work toward a future when no one suffers or dies from melanoma.

Happy Holidays!

Melanoma Research Progress At Stake in Washington Brinksmanship

Capitol Building

By: Wendy Selig, MRA’s President & CEO  

When you live and work in Washington, D.C., it’s easy to forget that most people don’t follow bills as they move through the legislative process or have Senate Sub-Committee homepages bookmarked in their browsers.  Most people are moving forward with their daily lives, despite whatever Congressional posturing or scandal is the Beltway in any given week.

But the brinksmanship in Washington does threaten many important programs, and is already having a palpable impact on melanoma research, threatening to slow the pace at which new treatments are made available to patients.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the country’s largest source of investment in basic medical research, research that leads to discoveries, clinical trials, and ultimately, approved therapies for patients.  With the cuts from sequestration, the NIH saw its fiscal 2013 budget decline by $1.5 billion. Adjusted for inflation, the NIH is currently funded at its lowest level in more than 40 years.

In real terms, NIH Director Francis Collins has said the cuts mean the agency will give out 650 fewer grants to promising scientists and researchers this year.  Researchers currently funded by NIH may find their support drying up, forcing them to scale back their experiments or abandon promising projects altogether.  The thought of the next breakthrough in melanoma treatment left to languish unexplored is devastating to the entire melanoma community.

It’s not just the cuts that have happened – and loom in additional years of sequester implementation without a change in course.  The research ecosystem is also suffering from the uncertainty surrounding the confluence of the debt ceiling and appropriations discussions.  NIH could face additional budget cuts as lawmakers scramble to hammer out last-minute deals to avoid a government shutdown this time around, while setting up future high-stakes negotiations down the road the next time a significant budget deadline is reached.

This uncertainty has not only affected NIH, but has also impacted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—the agency responsible for moving treatments through the review and approval process.  Strapped budgets at FDA are already creating real strains on this very important agency, and according to industry publication FierceBiotech, a shutdown could upend the agency’s drug approval timetable, delaying hearings and meetings and, tragically, delaying treatments from reaching patients.

Those of us working in other areas of the research enterprise – academia, industry and the non-profit community – want to work collaboratively with our partners in government to move beyond this cycle of cuts and threatened shutdowns, whose only impact is to generate uncertainty and prevent effective planning to maximize resources.   In medical research, it is critical to be able to see the near, medium and long-term horizons.  The current budget brinksmanship makes that extraordinarily difficult – and threatens to undermine the progress we have been making.

Eight defining experiences as an intern at MRA

MRA intern blog boardBy: Annie Cross, MRA Intern

After a whirlwind summer at the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), I looked back at some of the more memorable experiences.  While some gave me a better perspective on the medical field and some taught me about how the MRA organization runs, all of them opened my mind to the importance of medical research and awareness.  Take a look at the behind-the-scenes perspective from an MRA intern:

1.  An exciting start:

My first week at MRA was during American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual conference where cancer researchers and organizations come together to share medical advances over the past year.  Throughout the week my colleagues talked about the numerous presentations and corresponding conversations dedicated to melanoma at the conference, and it quickly became clear to me that melanoma research was accelerating fast and with fervor.  Over 40 MRA-sponsored researchers presented their work at the conference, which illustrated MRA’s central role in the field.  Learning about all these advancements was the perfect way to kick off the internship, since it made me realize the impact melanoma research could have on cancer research in general.  And since there were numerous presentations and educational materials to go through after the conference, I was immediately exposed to high-profile medical research that demonstrated the broad importance of melanoma and MRA.

2.  A survivor’s story:

Before coming to MRA, I knew that many people die from late-stage melanoma, and also that clinical trials can save people’s lives.  Both these facts became real a month into the internship when I read a story about a melanoma patient on the verge of death who was essentially saved by an MRA-sponsored clinical trial.

My task was to turn the patient’s video interview into a one-page summary, but I soon realized it was hard to pick out relevant information: Everything I was given seemed so important—not only in the patient’s story, but to the progress of melanoma research.  MRA’s research funds allowed this patient to survive, and the clinical trial data, focused on new immunotherapy treatments, is helping medical researchers across the world find successful treatments to cure advanced-stage melanoma.

I realized that MRA’s work is truly intangible, priceless.

3.  Policy follows suit:

From an early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of sun safety and using sunscreen.  Yet, I often wondered how much the general public heard advice like that.  During this internship, however, inspiring news was released that Texas and Nevada had banned tanning beds for minors.  This news showed promise for melanoma prevention and awareness and gave me greater confidence that public policy is on board with skin cancer prevention.

4.  Research is more than a white lab coat:

An integral part of what the Science Team does at MRA is based on individual investigators’ research.  Every summer, the funded researchers send progress reports on the status of their projects.  I was able to read many of these reports, and while the medical jargon required me to look a lot of terms up, I was exposed to the grunt work behind headlines on new medical advances.  Researchers across the country spend countless hours trying to solve medical problems, and it amazed me how much progress a lot of them make in a year’s time.  Reading through the tough science was not easy, but learning about the medical advances was inspiring.

5.  #Melanoma:

melanoma hashtag

I thought people were supposed to stay off social media in the workplace, and I had no intention of using Twitter at work!  But, when I provided coverage of MRA’s social media accounts during a staff member’s vacation, I realized how wrong I was.  Social media is an important part of business today, and is an avenue MRA uses to reach the medical field, including hospitals, doctors, and patients.  Seeing how sponsors, partners, and supporters of MRA interacted on Twitter and Facebook was like stepping outside of the office.   I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share and interact with melanoma news and stories on social media outlets, and the experience gave me another perspective on how MRA is run.

6.  The planning behind it all:

MRA was my first exposure to the medical non-profit world, and, prior to coming here, I did not realize the amount of planning and brain-power required to run such an organization.  But, I was fortunate to sit in on a scientific planning meeting where the Science Team planned the types of awards they anticipated funding next year and mapped the progress and outlook of MRA-funded research. It was fascinating hearing the points and counterpoints to different perspectives.  This four-hour meeting was where I learned the most about how a non-profit funds research and assembles a scientific strategy.

7.  Meetings of the mind:

Throughout the course of the summer, I attended a variety of different seminars in person and online.  They all taught me something different about science, policy, and research, but the biggest take-away from these seminars was seeing first-hand the dedication of people involved in medical research, patient advocacy, and philanthropic foundations.  It was inspiring listening to doctors describe the importance of their research from the perspective of their patients, and it was eye-opening to meet people from different organizations dedicated to solve devastating diseases.

cab graphic8.  Hailing a cab in DC:

I had to include this!  No, sticking my arm out across the street did not directly teach me about the inner workings of MRA or the importance of medical research.  But, after my first day at work it did seem to give me a perspective on the real world.  I grew up outside D.C., but have never experienced this quintessential bucket list item, and successfully hailing a cab put a stamp on my first full work day in the city.  It also allowed me to introspect about the exciting work I was involved in with MRA, and I realized the benefits of working in a city like D.C.

It is certainly a unique experience driving by Capitol Hill and thinking about how the polices created there impact critical issues like cancer research.

About the Author: 

I’m Annie Cross, a rising sophomore Chemistry major at UNC Chapel Hill.  My interest in medicine, and corresponding family history of skin cancer, prompted my interest in MRA this summer.  Before this summer, I had seen the clinical side of medicine with several doctors and nurses in the family, but had not been exposed to the other, more administrative side of the field.  But after a summer at MRA, I am fascinated both by the public health field and biology in general.  I look forward to applying some of the cancer research I have learned to more biology-focused courses in the future, and am excited for a possible career in the medical or public health fields.