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MRF’s 25th Anniversary: Encouraging Progress in the Uveal Melanoma Field

For our 25th anniversary, we share a guest blog from Richard D. Carvajal, MD from Columbia University Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and recipient of the CURE OM Vision of Hope Award in 2017: 

Herbert Irving CCCMeaningful progress in how we support and treat individuals with melanoma is best realized with robust collaboration between researchers, clinicians and, most critically, patients. I am thrilled to say that the collaborative spirit of the uveal melanoma community, which has in many ways been bolstered by the efforts of organizations such as the Melanoma Research Foundation’s (MRF) CURE OM initiative, has finally resulted in the successful development of tebentafusp, an immunotherapy that is the first systemic therapy to meaningfully improve outcomes for patients with advanced uveal melanoma  and currently under review for FDA approval.


My introduction to the uveal melanoma field was in 2004, years before the effectiveness of targeted therapies and immunological checkpoint blockade in cutaneous melanoma was demonstrated, and a time when our ability to help our patients with uveal melanoma was extremely limited. Because of the recurrent genetic mutations affecting proteins called GNAQ and GNA11 found in uveal melanoma, one of my early research focuses was on evaluating how these mutations led to the growth and progression of uveal melanoma and how we might therapeutically target those alterations. This work, which has been supported by a 2013 CURE OM Career Development Award, has led to over a dozen completed and ongoing clinical trials of targeted therapies that have provided patients within the US and internationally access to novel and potentially more effective treatments for uveal melanoma. Using sophisticated genomic tools applied at the level of individual cells collected from patients treated on these studies, we continue to study why particular treatments work in some cases and what might be done to increase the number of patients who might benefit from targeted therapy. Insight gained from this work will allow us to develop the next generation of clinical trials and new and effective treatments for our patients.


Although I am encouraged by the progress that has been made in the field, we must continue doing all we can to not only continue this progress but increase the rate of advancement. One way to achieve this is to continue to build upon the collaborations between researchers, clinicians and patients that have already been developed and enhance the ability of all of us to learn from each other. To this end, we have recently launched OMNi, the International Ocular Melanoma Natural History Study, which is an international effort to share data collected about uveal melanoma from major academic centers in the US, UK and Australia to more quickly answer critical questions in the field. This effort is being conducted under the auspices of the International Rare Cancers Initiative, a global organization designed to facilitate the development and conduct of practice changing clinical trials for rare cancers such as uveal melanoma.  The lessons we learn from the OMNi academic partners will very much complement the information that is gained directly from patients and their loved ones as part of the CURE OM Initiative VISION patient powered registry.


In 2017, I was humbled to have been selected as a CURE OM Vision of Hope Awardee. This honor cannot be viewed as an individual one, but one that must be shared with countless others. The work that I have performed thus far in the uveal melanoma field is based upon the clinical and scientific findings of physicians and scientists who preceded me and those who continue to strive to better understand and treat this disease today. And, most importantly, any achievements that I have made thus far in this field could not have been made without support of the incredible individuals who are affected by uveal melanoma and their loved ones who continue to inspire me every day.


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