Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the Melanoma Research Alliance and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has assembled a "Dream Team" of multidisciplinary experts dedicated to melanoma research for which there are few treatment options.
The team’s goal is to identify new therapeutic treatments for patients with a metastatic melanoma subtype, BRAF Wild-Type (BRAFwt), using personalized drugs developed for their own specific tumor profile. The hope is this personalized approach will lead to more effective and lasting treatments, and potentially spare patients from unnecessary treatments that are expensive, highly toxic and all too often have little or no benefit. If all goes as planned, phase I clinical trials could begin in mid-2012.
The BRAF gene controls the pathways that determine how normal cells grow, differ from one another and survive in the body. About half of patients with metastatic melanoma have a cancer cell mutation in their tumor’s BRAF gene, which will likely accelerate tumor cell growth. The other half of patients, those with BRAFwt, have no gene mutation.
Currently, patients who develop metastatic melanoma have a dismal prognosis. Metastatic melanoma, a very aggressive form of skin cancer in which the primary tumor — usually a single tumor or lesion — spreads to another area of the body, such as the lymph nodes, mouth, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and brain.
Melanoma of the skin is the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, where more than 70,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed each year and one person dies from the disease every hour. The median survival for metastatic melanoma patients is six to nine months, and a three-year survival rate of 10 to 15 percent, according to AACR.
Very little progress has been made to identify new therapeutic targets to treat metastatic melanoma patients with BRAFwt disease.
The median age at which people are diagnosed with melanoma is just above 50 years old. Still, melanoma occurs in young adults with greater frequency than many other cancer types, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.