Article by Sara Damore
Melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer caused by extensive sun exposure and the fifth most common cancer in the U.S. If detected and treated early, the survival rates for melanoma are high (98%). However, once the cancer spreads to other areas of the body, survival rates for malignant melanoma drop dramatically to 20%.
Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and President Elect of the American Association for Cancer Research, is one of the world’s leading physician-scientists in malignant melanoma research. Under his guidance, Dr. Ribas’ lab has discovered critical treatment targets and developed novel therapeutics for melanoma. He’ll share the lessons he and his team have learned in their exhaustive aim to cure this deadly skin cancer at this year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference: Precision Cancer Care through Immunotherapy and Genomics, hosted by Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine on Sept. 20-21, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Dr. Ribas’ unique therapies involve the creative use of the patient’s own immune system in detecting and destroying cancer cells.
One such treatment uses antibodies that enable immune cells to recognize cancer cells. Cancer cells have been found to use the programmed death-1 (PD-1) proteins on the surface of immune cells to evade detection. By harnessing antibodies that block the PD-1 proteins through the use of the drug pembrolizomab, the patient’s immune system can identify and attack cancer cells. Dr. Ribas’ lab was the first to use PD-1-blocking antibodies in this way and the treatment is now approved by the Food and Drug Administration for melanoma and other cancer types.
While one third of the patients responded to the treatment, Dr. Ribas and his team sought to understand why the PD-1 blocking treatment was not effective for all patients. After adding a modified Herpes virus (Talimogene laherparapvec) to the therapy, 62% of patients in a clinical trial responded to therapy. This treatment is now being tested in a Phase III clinical trial.
Dr. Ribas also seeks to understand the role of genetics in melanoma. Approximately half of melanoma patients have a variation in the BRAF gene. Normally, this gene produces a protein that regulates cell growth, but modifications to the gene can encourage the development and distribution of cancer cells. By enhancing the understanding of melanoma biomarkers and patterns in genetic variations, Dr. Rabis and his colleagues hope to continue to foster the creation of new immunotherapies and improve their ability to target specific cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 100,000 adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma. The incidence of the disease has steadily increased over the past three decades. Although the average age of diagnosis is 63, melanoma is also the most common form of cancer diagnosed in 25-29 year olds.
Dr. Ribas is one of many cancer experts who be sharing their expertise at this year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference, which will emphasize immunotherapy and precision cancer care.
The conference is designed for practicing clinicians and researchers who want up to date information on the latest treatment strategies for cancer care. Speakers will cover topics ranging from breast cancer genomics, to precision immunotherapy, CART therapy, and serum tumor DNA analysis.
Preconference sessions will provide an in-depth look at the science driving many advances in cancer care:
For a complete schedule and list of speakers, visit the conference website
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Tags: #CIMCon19, #skin cancer, BRAF gene, Cancer, center for individualized medicine, Dr. Antoni Ribas, geenetics, genomics, Herpes virus, immunotherapy, individualized medicine, mayo clinic, Melanoma, novel therapeutics, oncology, PD-1 blocking antibodies, pharmacogenomics, Precision Medicine