OCT 01, 2015 07:30 AM PDT

A Case Study for Immunotherapies and Targeted Therapies

  • 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, a cancer of pigment-producing cells, accounts for nearly 200,000 new cases of cancer reported each year worldwide. It is the deadliest skin cancer. Alarmingly, in the U.S., the incidence has tripled over the last three decades, and the death rate has increased at a time when mortality for other common cancers has declined. If 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. Eight new treatments have been approved since 2011 that have revolutionized the field, provided new hope for patients, and showcased melanoma as a case study for all of oncology. These therapies fall into two classes: 1) targeted therapies that block growth-promoting pathways in melanomas with activating mutations in BRAF (vemurafenib, dabrafenib, and trametinib); and 2) immunotherapies that target the “brakes” on the immune system including the checkpoint inhibitor antibodies to CTLA-4 (ipilimumab) and PD-1 (pembrolizumab and nivolumab). Despite the benefits that these FDA- and European Commission-approved treatments offer, there is a significant need for new therapeutic approaches to overcome primary and treatment-emergent resistance and lead to ever improved outcomes for patients. Through research and the engagement of all stakeholders, including academia, the pharmaceutical industry, government, patients, entrepreneurs and donors, the melanoma research community will continue to produce cutting-edge therapies whose benefits will extend beyond melanoma and impact other cancers as well.

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