OCT 05, 2016 6:00 AM PDT

Melanoma - View from the Frontlines of Immunotherapy and Precision Medicine

  • Chief Science Officer, Melanoma Research Alliance
      Dr. Perkins joined the Melanoma Research Alliance as Chief Science Officer in 2013 where she is responsible for the development and implementation of the MRA's scientific strategy including its research award program and annual Scientific Retreat. Her interests center on translational research including genomics, drug discovery and advancement of novel therapeutic approaches. She became a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research in late 2015. Prior to joining the MRA, she was Chief Scientific Officer at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for five years, following a 16-year research career at two major pharmaceutical companies. While at the MMRF, Dr. Perkins led the expansion of its venture philanthropy activities including its Biotech Investment Award program and development of the scientific direction of its CoMMpasssm longitudinal study. Prior to joining the MMRF, Dr. Perkins was Director of Cancer Research at Bayer Pharmaceuticals, where she contributed to advancing novel targeted therapies toward clinical study including Nexavar® and other innovative signal transduction inhibitors. Prior to joining Bayer, she led a cancer research group at the Schering-Plough Research Institute participating in early-stage programs, including novel target-finding using human genomics data. Dr. Perkins graduated from the University of Michigan with a PhD and MS in Biological Chemistry and conducted postdoctoral studies at Princeton University in the Department of Molecular Biology. She earned her BS in Zoology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


    Melanoma arises in the pigment producing cells (melanocytes) and is the deadliest of the skin cancers. It accounts for nearly 200,000 new cases of cancer each year worldwide and in the U.S. over 76,000 new diagnoses are expected in 2016. Melanoma incidence in the U.S. has tripled over the last three decades, and the death rate has increased at a time when mortality for other common cancers has declined. When caught early, melanoma can be successfully treated by surgery, while those diagnosed with widespread metastatic disease (Stage IV) have a median survival of less than one year if untreated. Notably, 11 new treatments have been approved by the FDA to treat melanoma since 2011 and have revolutionized the field, provided new hope for patients, and showcased melanoma as the cancer that is on the frontlines of oncology innovation. These treatments fall into two categories: 1) targeted therapies that block growth-promoting pathways in melanomas with activating mutations in BRAF (vemurafenib, cobimetinib, dabrafenib, and trametinib); and 2) immunotherapies that target the “brakes” on the immune system via checkpoint inhibitor antibodies to CTLA-4 (ipilimumab) or PD-1 (nivolumab and pembrolizumab) as well as the first oncolytic viral therapy (T-VEC). Precision medicine in melanoma arrived in 2011 with targeted therapies, combination treatments are approved and biomarkers continue to be advanced. With anti-PD-1 drugs active in other cancers including kidney cancer, lung cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, it’s clear that lessons learned from melanoma are already applicable across oncology.  The benefits can be expected to continue through research and the engagement of all stakeholders, including academia, biopharma, government, patients, entrepreneurs and donors.

    Learning Objectives
    Upon completion of this session, participants should be able to:

    1. Describe at least one cancer that is benefiting from a treatment first approved in melanoma.
    2. Identify at least two melanoma therapies that can be described as ‘precision medicine’ matching treatment to patients based on mutational status.

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