Genes Unlock New Treatments For Deadly Melanoma
International Melanoma Congress signals new promise and hope in treating a disease that has long held a dismal prognosis for those in the advanced stages. Caught early, melanoma is one of the easiest cancers to treat, but caught late, melanoma is one of the most incurable and deadly.
This year's Congress highlights the growing understanding about the underlying genetic mutations that cause melanoma. "With each genetic mutation we successfully identify, it opens up yet another door to a new therapy," says Ze'ev Ronai, Ph.D., organizer of this year's Congress and Program Director at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. "What's clear is that a broad-spectrum approach to treating advanced melanoma is rapidly being replaced by targeted and likely personalized therapies."
The median life expectancy for those with advanced melanoma is nine months and existing therapies have not improved survival in more than a decade. Approximately five years ago, the research community began unlocking the underlying genetic malfunctions that occur in cells, causing melanoma. Today, researchers are beginning to correlate those discoveries to therapies that may have a meaningful impact on the survival of patients.
"We're starting to understand that melanoma is actually many different diseases and that there is not one easy magic bullet that we're going to find," says Lynn Schuchter, M.D., Professor of Medicine at the Abramson Cancer Center of University of Pennsylvania. "But there is great excitement not only for the drugs in development, but also from the fact that much of the basic science being done has implications for patients now. In many cases we don't have to wait for a new drug to be developed. Drugs that are already on the market are being used to slow down disease progression."
Highlights of the Congress includes:
-- research uncovering the usefulness of an existing drug
-- promising results of Stage II and Stage III clinical trials
-- a better diagnostic tool soon to be available
-- basic research findings that will serve as a platform for future therapies.
The Society for Melanoma Research meeting also marks a change in the Society's main scientific publication. Pigment Cell Research will become Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research to underscore the rapidly expanding potential in melanoma research, and will serve as a focal point for the international research community in discussing advances in field. A preview issue produced for the Congress will be dedicated to melanoma research. The renamed journal will be officially launched in January 2008.