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.
The $6 million, three-year SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team Translational Cancer Research grant is to accelerate new scientific treatments from lab to bedside where it can benefit patients quickly.
Drs. Jeffrey M. Trent, an internationally recognized expert in human cancer genetics and president and research director at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Az., and Patricia M. LoRusso, an Osteopathic Medicine physician and principal investigator for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center and professor of oncology at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Mich., will lead the Dream Team project.
"The SU2C-Melanoma Research Alliance grant gives us the remarkable ability to align cutting edge researchers across the globe to join forces to defeat this terrible disease," said Trent in a written statement. “We’re focusing on that group of highly advanced patients for whom some new treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration don’t work. This will be the first large randomized trial in this area. This is one of the largest team efforts that’s been attempted for this type of cancer with this type of approach.”
The 50-member team includes experts in the fields of medical management of patients with metastatic melanoma, drug development, genomics research, biostatistics, bioinformatics and patient advocacy and represent 14 leading U.S. cancer research and treatment institutions.
The team is optimistic an individualized medicine approach will not only lead to therapeutic benefit for the treatment of BRAFwt metastatic melanoma, but may also be beneficial to many other tumor and disease types.
Patients wishing to inquire about clinical trials should e-mail MelanomaDreamTeam@karmanos.org.
Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Stand Up To Cancer and Melanoma Research Alliance Announce Dream Team. AACR Media Release. 14 Dec. 2011. Accessed 14 December 2011 at: http://www.aacr.org/home/public--media/aacr-in-the-news.aspx?d=2661
Melanoma. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 26 Aug. 2011. Accessed 21 December 2011 at: http://www.cancer.net/patient/Cancer+Types/Melanoma
Advanced Metastic Melanoma Patient Information. Up-to-date.com, accessed 21 December 2011 at: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/patient-information-melanoma-treatment-advanced-or-metastatic-melanoma
Reviewed December 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith