Dream Team Tackles Melanoma

In the sun-drenched Southwest, it seems only appropriate that an Arizona-based research institute like the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) should lead a study of deadly skin cancer.


In collaboration with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, TGen is leading a $6 million, three-year international study of melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – funded by Stand Up To Cancer and the Melanoma Research Alliance.


This unique clinical study will pursue new therapies for a type of melanoma known as BRAF wild-type, for which there are few treatment options.


The grant will accelerate the application of new therapeutic agents, quickly moving new scientific discoveries to clinics where they can immediately benefit patients. In the United States, nearly 121,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year. Someone dies from melanoma every hour; about 9,000 annually.


The study, which will involve nearly 50 scientists and 200 patients at more than a dozen institutes, will be headed by Dr. Jeffrey Trent, president and scientific director at TGen in Phoenix, and Dr. Patricia LoRusso, director of the Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.


“The Stand Up To Cancer-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 Dr. Trent, who will supervise patients’ genetic and genomic sequencing, spelling out their DNA.


“We hope to use this unique multi-stage clinical investigation to define new treatments that will produce benefits for metastatic melanoma patients, based on extensive genomic profiling. We have great scientists and clinicians from across the nation who will join forces on this,” said Dr. LoRusso, who will supervise the selection of patients, tissue samples and clinical trials research.


Joining TGen and Karmanos on the team are numerous clinicians and researchers from 16 Participating Institutes and Clinical Centers, a medical overseer, four patient advocates and a four-member genomics advisory committee.


“Having a Dream Team of physicians and scientists focus on such an important and unmet need for patients who are not able to benefit from the latest breakthrough drugs is a most welcome development,” said Debra Black, co-founder and chair of the Melanoma Research Alliance.


Currently, patients who develop metastatic melanoma have a dismal prognosis, with a median survival of six to nine months and a five-year survival rate of 15 percent to 20 percent. About half of patients with metastatic melanoma have an oncogenic mutation in their tumor’s BRAF gene, but the other half of patients are BRAFwt and have no mutation in the gene. Very little progress has been made to identify new therapeutic targets to treat metastatic melanoma patients with BRAFwt disease.


This team will investigate the utility of personalized target/therapy identification in patients with BRAFwt metastatic melanoma. It will explore the efficacy of molecularly guided therapy involving numerous Food and Drug Administration-approved and investigational agents.


An ensuing clinical trial will determine whether this personalized approach significantly improves clinical outcome.


The team hopes that an individualized medicine approach to the treatment of BRAFwt metastatic melanoma will not only lead to therapeutic benefit for this patient population, but may also be beneficial to many other tumor and disease types.


On behalf of Stand Up To Cancer, the American Association for Cancer Research will administer the grants. AACR is the oldest and largest scientific organization in the world focusing on every aspect of high-quality, innovative cancer research.


Photo at top: Dr. Jeffrey Trent

Text by Steve Yozwiak, senior science writer, TGen. This abbreviated story is reprinted with permission from TGen Today, Jan. 2013



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