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Melanoma Patient and Memorial Efforts Fuel Advances in Melanoma Research

WASHINGTON— For years, researchers in the melanoma field have worked tirelessly against funding shortfalls, a shortage of researchers and the complexities of the disease.  In many cases their work has been supported by funds raised by volunteers.

In 2010, the community has seen important advances and new clues to mechanisms to slow or turn off the progression of this disease.  For the first time in 30 years, cancer researchers have been able to show an overall survival benefit in a Phase III trial for metastatic melanoma, and for the first time in 12 years, new therapies are poised to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat this disease.

“A new drug hasn’t been approved in 12 years and the melanoma community has been hungry for meaningful progress,” said Tim Turnham, executive director for the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF).  “While there is a long road between the 5K or gala event and research outcomes, the connection between the funds raised and important progress is indisputable.  These volunteer efforts will pave the way to a cure for melanoma.”

Exciting areas of progress in 2010 include promising results for investigational therapies:

  • Ipilimumab, an immunotherapy developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, is the first to show statistically significant improved survival and is on track for approval by the FFDA in early 2011.  Phase III trial results presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting showed that 44-46 percent of patients treated with ipilimumab were alive at one year, compared to 25 percent of patients treated with the control arm.  At two years, 22-24 percent of patients treated with ipilimumab were alive compared to 14 percent of patients treated with the control arm.
  • RG7204 is an inhibitor, under development by Roche, which targets the BRAF protein that is found in half of metastatic melanoma tumors.  Promising data demonstrating an increase in progression free survival was presented at the seventh annual International Melanoma Research Congress in Sydney, Australia.  Roche is currently working to open an expanded access program to offer more treatment options to patients with advanced stages of the disease.

In many ways, these advances can be traced back to the hard work and dedication of those who dedicate themselves to raising funds for research, often in memory of a loved one.  The MRF and those in the research community benefit directly from the efforts of volunteers around the country, including:

  • The Anchor Family, who hold a 5K run/walk event every year in memory of their father.  In 2010 alone they raised over $40,000!
  • The Miles for Melanoma Team, with groups of dedicated volunteers across the country, trained together to run marathons or half marathons.  The team raised more than $170,000 in 2010.
  • Dozens of individuals who demonstrated amazing creativity and energy in their effort to raise money and awareness.  Tristan Bates rode his unicycle 422 miles and raised nearly $5000, while Hugh Allen has raised $20,000 by riding his bicycle across the United States.

“These volunteers have taken the pain of losing a loved one to this disease and transformed it into efforts that will fuel critical primary research and lead to important advances,” said Turnham.  In fact, among other areas, research funded by the MRF served as an important building block in the area of immunotherapy, where researchers are seeing important progress.

With the support of volunteers and donors, the MRF has invested in a new initiative, the MRF Breakthrough Consortium, to support the combination trials that experts agree are necessary to make the next important advances in research.    

Particularly in melanoma, conducting studies of drugs in combination is challenging.  Because very few drugs have been approved for melanoma, combination therapy involves putting together drugs that are still in clinical trials, including those held by different companies.   

In 2009, the MRF Breakthrough Consortium was formed as a collaboration among top melanoma experts to partner with pharmaceutical companies and government to pool knowledge, resources and efforts to generate new breakthroughs in treatment.  In 2010, the MRF Breakthrough Consortium has followed through on its commitment to accelerating the discovery of effective melanoma treatments through coordinated development of new combinations in melanoma.  The Consortium expects to see the launch of the group’s first trial in early 2011.

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About Melanoma

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States and can strike men and women of all ages, all races and skin types.  In fact, with a one in 50 lifetime risk of developing melanoma, nearly 69,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2010, resulting in 8,700 deaths or one person every hour.  Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25- to 29-years-old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15- to 29-years-old.

About Melanoma Research Foundation

The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) is the largest independent, national organization devoted to melanoma in the United States.  Committed to the support of medical research in finding effective treatments and eventually a cure for melanoma, the MRF also educates patients and physicians about prevention, diagnosis and the treatment of melanoma.  The MRF is an active advocate for the melanoma community, helping to raise awareness of this disease and the need for a cure.  The MRF’s website is the premier source for melanoma information seekers.  More information is available at www.melanoma.org.