By Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute
It’s been a very exciting week for us at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center! One of our finest and most beloved doctors, Patricia LoRusso, D.O., director of our Phase I Clinical Trials and the Eisenberg Center for Experimental Therapeutics, has been selected to co-lead the prestigious Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) – Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) Dream Team. With this honor, she becomes the first woman to serve in a Dream Team leadership role since SU2C began funding the teams in 2009.
I also would like to recognize her colleague and Dream Team Leader Jeffrey M. Trent, Ph.D., president and research director of the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, for this tremendous distinction.
Drs. Trent and LoRusso will direct a Dream Team made up of some of the nation’s leading cancer experts to find more effective treatments for an aggressive form of skin cancer. Dr. LoRusso is a world-renowned expert in clinical and translational research, and Dr. Trent is an internationally recognized expert in molecular-based approaches to cancer. The purpose of the team is to identify patients with BRAF Wild-Type (BRAFwt) metastatic melanoma, do extensive genomic profiling on their tumor, and identify a personalized therapeutic intervention based on the patient’s genomic makeup.
Dr. LoRusso is an incredible leader and a pioneer in the area of testing novel therapeutics to advance personalized cancer care, developing the next standard of care that will be used around the world. This appointment is a testimony to the dedication of Dr. LoRusso and Dr. Trent and their relentless commitment to eradicate cancer. We congratulate them and their entire Dream Team on this outstanding recognition.
With more than 70,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed each year and more than 8,000 people dying from this disease annually, more research needs to be done to stop this aggressive disease. Approximately half of those diagnosed with melanoma are older adults. About 50 percent of all melanoma cases are BRAFwt melanoma cancer.
Currently, patients who develop metastatic melanoma have a dismal prognosis, with a median survival of six to nine months and a five-year survival rate of 15 to 20 percent. About half of patients with metastatic melanoma have an oncogenic mutation in their tumor’s BRAF gene, but the other half of patients are BRAFwt and have no gene mutation. Very little progress has been made to identify new therapeutic targets to treat metastatic melanoma patients with BRAFwt disease.
Once a clinical trial is developed through this collaboration, patients will be able to enter the personalized trial to test the specific drug developed based on their tumor profile. The hope is that this personalized medicine approach will lead to more effective and lasting treatments, and potentially spare patients from unnecessary treatments that are expensive, highly toxic and all too often have little or no benefit. The target for the start of the trial is estimated at mid-2012.
Once again, we congratulate Dr. LoRusso and Dr. Trent for being among the very best in conducting cancer research. It’s a true testament to Karmanos’ scientific expertise and collaboration with the research community to establish the future of cancer treatments and create hope for our own patients and those fighting cancer worldwide.
To read the complete news release about the Melanoma Dream Team, click http://www.karmanos.org/view_news.asp?id=967. For those interested in information on upcoming clinical trials, please email inquiries to MelanomaDreamTeam@karmanos.org.